M. D. Harrell Site

By: Mark J. Lynott

Type: General Entry

Published: April 1, 1995

The M. D. Harrell site, near South Bend on the Brazos River in south central Young County at an elevation of about 1,020 feet to 1,050 feet above mean sea level, is a deep, stratified archeological deposit situated on the first and second terraces above the floodplain of the Brazos. The extent of the deposit has not been fully determined, but the site reaches a minimum of 500 feet south and 600 feet east from the edge of the first terrace. Alluviation has blanketed the site with a layer of sterile sands; the only archeological remains visible on the surface in 1938 were exposed in the side of the first terrace by lateral erosion of the river channel. Archeological investigations of the site were conducted by the Work Projects Administration and the University of Texas Statewide Archaeological Survey in 1938. The site had been discovered in 1937 by Alvin Thomas Jackson during a survey of the area to be inundated by Possum Kingdom Reservoir. The WPA excavations, directed by George R. Fox, began on October 12, 1938, and continued until April 24, 1939. During this period three large blocks of the site were excavated. Two of these were situated along the edge of the first terrace, where buried hearths had been exposed. Relatively few archeological remains were found in these units, although artifacts apparently extended to nearly twenty-five feet below the surface in excavation area one. Moderately rapid alluviation is likely responsible for this sparse deposition, and natural stratigraphic layers are present within the deposit. In excavation area two, operation of the Harrell farm had disturbed the prehistoric deposit. The third excavation block was on top of the third terrace; there archeological remains are abundant and extend to a depth of ten feet below the surface. Descriptions of the WPA investigations have been prepared by Jack T. Hughes (1942) and Alex D. Krieger (1946).

The Harrell site is the type site of the Henrietta Focus, as defined by Krieger in 1946. This focus dates to the end of the prehistoric sequence in north central Texas and seems to be affiliated with other complexes attributed to the Southern Plains Village horizon. Some writers have attributed the Henrietta Focus to a proto-Wichita stage in north central Texas, but the differences between the material culture of the Henrietta Focus and the historic Wichita sites in the southern plains seem to argue against any direct relationship. The age of the Henrietta Focus component at the Harrell site is poorly documented, though evidence supports a Late Prehistoric placement, perhaps from A.D. 1200 to 1600. Since the depth of the Henrietta Focus deposit at the Harrell site implies occupation over a fairly extended period, this estimate must be treated with caution.

The wide variety of artifacts recovered from the site may be characterized as typical of the Late Prehistoric period in the southern plains. Chipped stone tools include diamond-shaped and leaf-shaped bifaces, gravers, end scrapers, gouges, drills, and small triangular arrow points. The arrowheads occur unnotched, with side notches, and with side and basal notches. Ground stone tools include manos, metates, hammerstones, and abraders. Ceramics are not plentiful but are consistently shell-tempered and may be attributed to the type Nocona Plain. These are generally jars, but a few deep bowls have been identified. Decoration is rare and usually limited to a row of bosses on the neck of the vessel, or fingernail punctuations or incised lines between the rim and the neck. The vessels are globular with occasional strap handles. Bone artifacts include bison scapula hoes, deer ulna or antler flakers, awls, hooks, and beads. Disc beads made of perforated mussel or olivella shells are also present.

Excavations at the Harrell site have uncovered hearths and burial sites. Rock hearths occur in a variety of types, including concave or dish-shaped piles of burned rock, circular pits paved with flat slabs on the bottom and upright slabs around the edges, and irregular piles of burned rock. Most of the hearths consist of a single layer of rocks about three to four feet across. All 135 hearths in excavation area three are composed of limestone, with charcoal, ash, bone, and other artifacts around and among the rocks. Thirty-two human burials have also been identified. Most are poorly preserved and fragmentary. The majority of individuals were buried in a flexed or loosely flexed position. Sixteen were buried as single interments, but three multiple interments were also uncovered. Several of the burials were placed in slab-lined cists or covered with limestone slabs. Mortuary goods appear to be lacking, and the position of the burials in a single area of the site implies a distinct cemetery. Though no evidence of houses has been reported, the cemetery and the numerous hearths suggest that the Harrell site was occupied by a largely sedentary population. Collections from the WPA investigations at the Harrell site are housed at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin.

Robert E. Bell, Edward B. Jelks, and W. W. Newcomb, comps., A Pilot Study of Wichita Indian Archeology and Ethnology (Final Report for Grant GS-964, National Science Foundation [Mimeograph, Southern Methodist University, 1967]). Robert E. Bell, "Relationships between the Caddoan Area and the Plains," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 31 (1960). Lathel Duffield and Edward B. Jelks, The Pearson Site (University of Texas Department of Anthropology Archaeology Series 4, Austin, 1961). Jack T. Hughes, An Archaeological Report on the Harrell Site of North-Central Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1942). Alex D. Krieger, Culture Complexes and Chronology in Northern Texas, with Extension of Puebloan Datings to the Mississippi Valley (University of Texas Publication 4640 [Austin, 1946]). Dessamae Lorrain, Archaeological Excavations in the Fish Creek Reservoir (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Contributions in Anthropology 4, 1969).
  • Archeology
  • Land Sites

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mark J. Lynott, “M. D. Harrell Site,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/m-d-harrell-site.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995