AUSTIN – Archeologists say a prehistoric skeleton and campsite discovered on the muddy shore of Lake Travis could be between 700 and 2,000 years old.
An archaeology crew excavated the nearly intact skeleton on Sunday so that it can be donated to the University of Texas for further study.
"The significance of this is really an understanding of the ways of people who lived here in the past," said Andy Malof, an archaeologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority. "It gives us information about their health, their diet, stresses and their environment."
He said that an on-site examination of the body indicated that it is less than 1,000 years old. But arrowheads collected at the site suggest a burial taking place between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago, he said.
David Houston, of Austin, came across the skeleton on Aug. 9 when he pulled his personal watercraft onto the lake shore to admire a nearby house. He said he saw a jawbone, teeth and a forearm in the clay soil.
The camp had been submerged by the lake, which was created in 1941, but declining lake levels revealed the site. As of Friday, the lake had fallen to 16 feet below its August average, according to the LCRA.
Houston, an archaeology buff who has "home-schooled" himself on the subject for almost 25 years, said he recognized the skull as dating back hundreds of years. The teeth are ground down, which indicates the person ate food that is stone-ground and has tiny rock fragments in it, he said.
"I kind of did a double take," Houston said. "I thought, 'Am I really seeing what I think I'm seeing?'"
Members of the archaeology team that unearthed the skeleton said they also found flat rocks that could have been used to grind food. Malof said some of the rocks were arranged like a hearth.
Malof said the discovery is fairly unique. The skeleton is homo sapiens, and was probably a woman about 40 years old, he said. The skeleton will be tested further for more information.
The oldest known female remains discovered in Texas were those of an Ice Age woman discovered near Leander in 1982. Known as the Leanderthal Lady, her skeleton was thought to have been buried between 11,000 and 8,000 B.C.