Antelope Creek phase is the cultural designation assigned to a series of prehistoric sites in the upper Texas and Oklahoma panhandles utilized by semisedentary, bison-hunting, and horticultural groups during a period of aridity between A.D. 1200 and 1500. General similarities in architecture, subsistence, and artifact assemblages indicate that the Antelope Creek people participated in the Plains Village horizon, which included many bison-hunting and horticultural village societies with similar adaptations resident in the mixed-grass prairies extending from north central Texas to North Dakota. The Antelope Creek phase and adjacent Buried City complex (found along Wolf Creek in the northeastern Texas Panhandle) are the two southwesternmost societies of the Plains Village horizon and the only two to reside in contiguous-room, pueblo-like villages and to employ stone masonry routinely in the foundations and walls of their structures. Village sites attributed to these two societies are generally riverine and extend from Tule Creek below Palo Duro Canyon north to the North Canadian River valley in the Oklahoma panhandle and across the width of the Texas Panhandle.
The first excavation, conducted in 1907 by T. L. Eyerly at the "Buried City" south of Perryton, drew widespread attention to village ruins on the Plains. Other early fieldwork consisted mainly of reconnaissance surveys by Warren Moorehead of Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, Ronald Olson of the American Museum of Natural History, J. Alden Mason of the Pennsylvania Museum, and Floyd V. Studer of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. Most of these studies attempted to examine cultural influences on areas between the Southwestern Puebloan and the Mississippian mound builders. The diligent work of William C. Holden, of Texas Tech, during the 1930s at Tarbox Ruin, Antelope Creek 22 Ruin, and Saddleback Ruin in the Canadian River valley demonstrated the Plains orientation of the phase. Considerable information on the artifact assemblage and village structure was gained from the Work Projects Administration excavations (1938–41) at eight sites in Texas (including the type sites of Antelope Creek 22 and Alibates Ruin 28, north of Amarillo), and the 1964 salvage work at sites within Lake Meredith along the Canadian River. Other important excavations in the Canadian River valley of Texas were conducted at the Sanford, Roper, Pickett, Cottonwood Ruins, and Jack Allen sites, sponsored by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum; excavations in three ruins along Big Blue Creek and the Buried City by the Texas Archeological Society; work at Landergin Mesa, north of Vega, by the Texas Historical Commission; and surveys around Lake Meredith by the Bureau of Reclamation. In the Oklahoma panhandle, excavations have focused on the Stamper Site, McGrath Site, and Two Sisters Site, in the vicinity of Guymon.
The first major interpretive synthesis of the Antelope Creek phase was developed by Alex Krieger (1946), who systematically described the cultural remains, employed the Midwest Taxonomic System (which defines cultures on the basis of artifact similarities) to coin the term "Antelope Creek focus" for sites in Texas, and grouped them with similar materials in adjacent regions into a poorly defined "Panhandle aspect." Subsequently, Lintz (1986) focused on examining intracultural variability for twenty-eight excavated sites in a fifty-mile segment of the Canadian River valley centered on Lake Meredith.
The age of the Antelope Creek phase is established from more than eighty radiocarbon dates, five archeomagnetic dates, and five obsidian-hydration dates. In addition, eighteen Puebloan ceramic types linked to tree-ring dates in their source areas permit the cross-dating of additional site contexts. The phase abruptly started by about A.D. 1200 and terminated by A.D. 1500. Sites immediately predating the Antelope Creek phase have not been identified; however, general cultural similarities in cord-marked ceramics suggest that Antelope Creek may have developed from an Indigenous "Woodland Period" manifestation present in the Panhandle by A.D. 400. The extensive collection of dates has allowed the delineation of some trends in culture change through time for the Antelope Creek-phase components in the Canadian River valley.
The excavation emphasis on architectural sites has produced a distorted image of Antelope Creek settlement patterns, since activities at nonarchitectural sites are poorly understood. Three classes of architectural sites have been delineated: multiple family hamlets with twenty or more "residential rooms," single-family "homesteads," and subhomesteads or field-hut sites that lack residential rooms. Each of these site types may also be associated with a series of smaller architectural features. The structures at any of these site types may consist of one or more free-standing buildings, or small-to-large contiguous-room blocks made of multiple, repetitious residential rooms and other associated room types. Contiguous-room structures tend to be earlier than single-room buildings.
Typically, an Antelope Creek residential room is a large (135 to 650 square-foot) rectangular building, oriented roughly in cardinal directions with a low, eastward-extended entryway. The walls often have unshaped, vertically placed, stone-slab foundations either aligned with the wall axis or, in the Buried City area, set perpendicular to the wall. Upper walls may be of horizontal masonry or adobe. The roof configuration is uncertain but might have been flat or hipped with grass thatch. Four interior roof-support posts often occur around a central hearth. The floor level of residential structures is a foot or more below the ground surface, with the distinctive presence of slightly elevated plastered activity areas or benches flanking a depressed work-area "channel" extending east-west through the central third of the room. Pit features or bins may be present on the benches. Many residential rooms contain a dais, or platform-altar, located within the channel against the west wall or recessed into the west wall. The intact extended entryways with polished stones flanking the low tunnels at Alibates Ruin 28 indicate that access was gained by crawling or stooping.
Other auxiliary rooms include small (75 to 430 square-foot) circular to rectangular areas. These are rarely semisubterranean, but construction methods are similar to those used in the wall and foundations of residential rooms, except that they lack the distinctive central channel and roof-support posts. Some of these rooms may contain interior hearths or storage pits, but most do not. The entrance was gained through ground-level or upper-wall openings. In addition, extramural slab-lined cists, hearths, and storage pits are relatively common.
Burials occur either inside rooms, in exterior midden areas, or in defined cemeteries located 150 to 300 feet from structures. Burials are often flexed single interments beneath slabs. The occurrence of burials above floor levels within a six-foot-tall mound covering a contiguous room structure at Alibates Ruin 28 suggests that wall remnants in abandoned buildings served as mnemonic markers for burials. Few burials display evidence of violence; although at theFootprint Site (Lake Meredith) several disarticulated individuals occurred on the house floor, and a cluster of ten skulls was intrusive to the burned structure. Three ossuary pits inside the same room contained seven to ten individuals interred with Antelope Creek-phase artifacts. The cranial pile may comprise trophy skulls obtained in retaliation for hostile raids. Grave goods are rare, but when present reflect gender-related utilitarian tool kits. No significant status differentiation is evident from the grave goods.
The economy is based on a hunting-gathering-horticulture pattern. Bison was the preferred game, followed by deer and antelope; however, a broad exploitation pattern may be inferred from a wide range of small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, clams, and waterfowl. Most bones are extensively smashed, indicating the extraction of marrow and bone grease. A wide range of charred wild and domestic plant remains has been found in small quantities. These include hackberry, mesquite, plums, cattail stems, persimmons, prickly pear, purslane, goosefoot, grass seeds, sunflower seeds, corn, squash, and beans. Local foods may have been supplemented by products obtained from trading blanks and nodules of the local chert resources. The occurrence of extensive quarry pits at the Alibates Flint Quarries, northeast of Amarillo, and caches of large, thin bifaces at the Alibates Ruin document the intensive prehistoric mining and manufacturing occurring during the Antelope Creek phase.
The artifacts from Antelope Creek-phase sites reflect specialized tool kits for mundane activities. The hunting and animal-processing kits consist of an abundance of small side-notched and unnotched arrow points; alternately beveled, diamond-shaped, and oval knives; end and side scrapers; guitar-pick-shaped scrapers or preforms; gravers; bone awls, pins, and spatulate tools; bone wrenches; freshwater clamshell scrapers; hammerstones and anvil stones; globular, cordmarked (or fabric-impressed) pots; and perhaps scored-rib rasps. Horticultural and construction implements are best represented by an abundance of socketed hoes, "squash knives," and digging-stick tips made from bison scapulae and leg bones. Domesticated and wild seeds were ground on basin-shaped stone slabs and one-handed manos. Woodworking implements are suggested by drills, scrapers, gravers, expedient flake knives and rarely hafted axes. Stone and bone or wood tool manufacturing is represented by the presence of hammerstones, antler billets, pressure flakers, shaft straighteners, awl sharpeners, abrading stones, biface caches, and abundant chipping debris. Evidence of weaving and basketry is represented by a few charred, coiled baskets, bone needles, awls, and sherd spindle whorls. Little is known about Antelope Creek-phase arts or religion. Elbow and tubular pipes are relatively common. Pecked rock art at hamlet sites depicts human footprints, quadrupeds, stick figures, and bas-relief turtles. Occasional building stones and thin bifacial knives are smeared with red hematite.
Quantities of trade materials are present on many Antelope Creek-phase sites. Sites postdating A.D. 1350 on the average show a 4,600 percent increase in the occurrence of trade goods over the earlier sites. Most materials are from the Southwestern Pueblos, where exotic painted ceramics and lithic resources occur; foreign objects from the Plains may be more difficult to identify and are underreported. Trade goods from the west include eighteen types of Southwestern ceramics, turquoise beads and pendants, obsidian nodules and tools, marine-shell beads (both disc and whole Olivella shells), conch-shell gorgets, conus-shell tinklers, and tubular pipes. Trade goods from the Central Plains may be represented by some collared-rim ceramic vessels and Niobrara jasper, whereas East Texas influences are represented by rare Caddoan ceramics. The trade goods seldom occur in special settings (as grave goods or in platform-altar contexts), and they are mostly redundant with indigenous tool forms and functions. For example, more than 4,100 Southwestern obsidian flakes were recovered from Alibates Ruin 28, located less than a half mile from the Alibates chert quarries. The redundancy in trade and the marked increase in frequency suggest that the goods may represent gifts used to solidify reciprocal relations that may have extended to trade in tobacco and staple foods that reduced local risks of economic failure.
The Antelope Creek phase was able to flower on the High Plains during drought because of fossil springwater reserves that continued to flow from the Ogallala Aquifer. The people were able to capitalize on local conditions and develop a mode of living similar to that of groups to the north and east. The change in architecture from contiguous room structures to one-room buildings may reflect greater periods of seasonal mobility and shorter duration of village occupation. Shifts in settlement toward springs, the intensification of trade in redundant goods and perhaps foods, and intercultural raiding are all regarded as attempts by Antelope Creek people to maintain a stable village life while coping with deteriorating climatic conditions. Worse droughts, coupled with the arrivals of Apachean groups around A.D. 1500, ended this adaptation. Cultural continuity with modern American Indian groups is tenuous; presumably the Antelope Creek people moved northeastward and merged with similar Plains Caddoan peoples, such as the Pawnees or Wichitas.
Large collections of artifacts and records from all of the WPA excavations and many other projects are on file at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon. Artifacts from W. C. Holden's early studies and F. E. Green's excavations at sites within Lake Meredith are at Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Artifacts from other excavated sites within Lake Meredith are at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin. Most materials from the Oklahoma panhandle sites are at the Stovall Museum, University of Oklahoma, Norman. Small collections and notes from other surveys are on file at the National Park Service, Fritch, Texas; the American Museum of Natural History, New York; the Arizona State Museum, Tucson; the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Pittsburgh, and the No Man's Land Museum, Goodwell, Oklahoma.