The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has teamed up with the Gault Archaeological Project to dig up the truth behind an ancient civilization.
The Gault Site, located in Bell County, is home to evidence of the Clovis people, believed to be the first inhabitants of the Americas. Michael Collins, anthropology research associate professor, said archeologists have found new evidence of inhabitants predating the Clovis people at the Gault site, but the discovery has its critics. The chemistry department is working to prove the authenticity of soil deposits that could substantiate the claims there was a civilization older than the Clovis people.
The chemistry department is protecting and preserving the soil deposits excavated from the Gault site by embedding the samples in a plastic polyester resin. The soil samples are believed to be more than 13,500 years old and are so fragile they must be hardened with a mixture of chemicals, Collins said.
This process will keep the samples intact so they can be sliced and analyzed by a specialist under a microscope. The specialist will hopefully determine the integrity of the samples, Collins said.
“If (the samples) are very high integrity, that is a defense against the criticism that they have been disturbed or mixed up, or are, for one reason or another, of little scientific value,” Collins said.
Collins said the goal of the Gault Project has been to collect a sample of the oldest deposits at the site. There are those who do not believe evidence of people before the Clovis exists, so Collins said archaeologists must “bend over backwards” to fend off the critics.
Collins said Paul Goldberg, a pioneer in the field of soil science, is usually in charge of turning the Gault Project samples into microscope slides. However, Goldberg’s upcoming retirement meant the process of turning the samples into microscope slides was up to the archaeologists of the Gault Project.
Collins said Goldberg gave the Gault Project all the information needed to complete the process. However, the task was turned over to the chemistry department so the samples would not be ruined.
“If the samples are ruined, it is an enormous task to collect them again,” Collins said.
Joseph Lamas, biology senior, is assisting with the project. Lamas said the process of turning the deposits into slides starts when a block of sediment is taken from the Gault site. A chemical mixture must be made to harden the sediment.
Collins said the chemical mixture is put in a tub containing the sediment, and a catalyst is added to the polyester resin. The resin soaks into the soil, which makes the mixture “hard as a rock.” The hardened samples are then sent to a lab and sliced to make the microscope slides.
Anastasia Gilmer, anthropology graduate student, said she has been working on the Gault Project since 2001 and is currently writing her thesis on the Gault Site. She said the chemistry department has helped provide the important information necessary to complete the project.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it as successfully without them,” Gilmer said.
Collins hopes this is not a one-time partnership between the Gault Project and the chemistry department.