Web Extra: Horn Shelter Exhibit
By Dale Weisman
One of the most remarkable discoveries in Paleoindian archeology comes alive in a small-town museum in North-Central Texas. At the Bosque Museum in Clifton you’ll come face to face with an ancient enigma set in bronze – the striking countenance of the “Horn Shelter Man.”
We’ll never know his name or how he died. Yet thanks to the extraordinary dedication of two avocational archeologists from Waco, Albert Redder and Frank Watt, we have a good idea how this prehistoric man lived some 11,200 years ago. Redder discovered the Horn Shelter site in a rockshelter on the Brazos River in Bosque County in 1954 while on a camping trip. In 1966 he and Watt began a systematic excavation of the south end of the shelter, uncovering cultural debris spanning 12,000 years, from the Paleolithic to the 1930s.
Redder and Watt’s most tantalizing find came in 1970 when they unearthed the skeletons of a male, believed to have died in his 40s, and a juvenile girl, 11-12 years of age, buried side by side and covered with limestone slabs. A very rare discovery, this double burial is one of thirteen known Paleoindian grave sites in the nation and one of three such sites containing burial offerings.
Experts at the Smithsonian Institution analyzed the skeletal remains and concluded that the prehistoric humans don’t share physical characteristics with modern Native Americans. Instead, they resemble the indigenous Ainu people of Northern Japan. Skeletal remains from other ancient burial sites in the U.S., including “Leanne” from a site near Leander, Texas, and the controversial Kennewick Man from Washington State, also bear an Ainu resemblance, which begs the unanswered question: Where did these Paleoindians originate?
The bust of the Horn Shelter Man, based on a cast of the male’s skull and a facial reconstruction performed by a sculptor, is a centerpiece of the Bosque Museum’s extensive Horn Shelter exhibit. Interpretive displays, photographs and a film narrated by Redder tell the story of the rockshelter’s discovery, excavation and significance to Paleoindian archeology. Life-size dioramas of the ancient burial and the excavation site (featuring Redder’s actual tools) bring the Horn Shelter site to life for museum visitors.
Redder dedicated more than 45 years of his life to excavating and documenting the Horn Shelter site. He has donated his life’s work at the Horn Shelter including all artifacts and funereal remains to the Smithsonian for ongoing research. Given the myriad human and natural threats to the rockshelter site over thousands of years, it’s remarkable that so many of the artifacts remained intact.
“A layered archeological site such as Horn Shelter is like a huge book of information," noted Redder. “Rip out a page or a single chapter without carefully reading every sentence and the story is changed or lost forever.”
For more information about the Bosque Museum, call 254/675-3845.
From the August 2012 issue.