The Vara Daniel Site (41TV1364) covers almost 60 acres at the confluence of Barton Creek and the Colorado River in Travis County, Texas. Located within the City of Austin’s Zilker Park, the City’s premier recreational landscape, the site contains stratified and intact archaeological deposits dating from the Paleoindian period through the Late Prehistoric period. Previous investigations revealed that the oldest deposits are centered within an area of the park known as the Rugby Field at depths of approximately 3–5 meters below the modern ground surface (mbs). Due to unavoidable adverse impacts to the site resulting from construction of a new wastewater outfall line, and in compliance with the Texas Antiquities Code, the City consulted with the Texas Historical Commission and agreed to conduct archaeological excavations that would be designed to recover information about the deeply buried Paleoindian component of the site.
EComm was awarded a competitively-bid contract with the City in December 2008 to conduct the data recovery excavations. Under Texas Antiquities Permit 5177, fieldwork began on March 23, 2009. An estimated 48 m3 of sediment were mechanically removed down to 3 mbs. An additional 32 m3 were hand excavated between 3 and 5 mbs and were screened through ¼-inch mesh. Material recovered from the hand excavations includes 1,328 pieces of chipped stone, 50 pieces of burned rocks, more than 20,000 snails, and over 300 mussel shell pieces. Five buried features were discovered including two burned rock hearths, an occupation surface, a chipped stone concentration, and a stain. Collected non-cultural materials included more than 30,000 unmodified gravels and 320 sediment samples. Concurrent with the excavations, a public outreach program included an on-site information station staffed by a professional archaeologist eight hours per day, seven days per week; tours of the site for school children and youth groups; a dedicated project website including a live video feed transmitted through an on-site webcam; interactive weekend activities such as atlatl throwing and flint knapping; and supervised screening by the public of the mechanically excavated overburden. The public screening recovered an additional 901 pieces of chipped stone from the 2–3 mbs overburden. Fieldwork was concluded on May 30, 2009, at which time the site was backfilled, resodded, and returned to service as a sports field.
After completion of field work, analysis began by examining variability by depth in artifact frequency and size, soil magnetic susceptibility, soil particle size, and soil chemistry to delineate temporally discrete analytical units. Four units were thus defined; all four show a low overall frequency of cultural material per volume when compared to other similar sites in the region. Dating was accomplished using 14 radiocarbon assays of bulk sediment coupled with multiple optically simulated luminescence assays, archaeomagnetic assays, and isotope assays on mussel shells. Analysis of the chipped stone assemblage identified an early Paleoindian, Clovis-like, occupation dating to about 10,905–9840 BP at about 4.1–4.9 mbs. Above this, a Late Paleoindian occupation dating to about 9634–9230 BP is seen in the lithic assemblage from 3.3 to 3.6 mbs. An Early Archaic occupation was identified above this depth. Using analyses of land snails, mussel shells, and site geomorphology, a paleoenvironmental reconstruction suggests that from about 10,480 to 9840 BP, the site area transitioned from a gravel point bar to a lower flood basin, then to an upper flood basin with terrace accretion deposits by around 9600 BP. Finally, generally finer terrace deposits covered the immediate area through about 8600 BP and later.