Midland Site

By: Valentina L. Martinez

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

The Midland, or Scharbauer, Site (41MD1) is at the southern edge of the Llano Estacado, ten kilometers south of Midland. It comprises an area of approximately 1.2 square kilometers and consists of a series of partially vegetated active sand dunes and dune blowouts that spread north along the Monahans Draw. The site's foliage cover includes drought-resistant grasses and scattered shrubs. Site investigations began with a survey in 1953 after an incomplete female human cranium was found on the draw floor of Locality 1. Excavations were conducted by Fred Wendorf from February 1 through 28, 1954, by E. H. Sellards in the fall of 1955, and again by Wendorf from October 24 to November 6, 1955. Three sands were observed in Locality 1. The gray sand yielded the skull and three unfluted points, one of which became the Midland point type. An underlying white sand contained remains of Pleistocene fauna. An overlying red sand yielded unfluted point fragments. The stratigraphy of localities 2 through 5, not located in the draw, was different. The gray and white sands were not found there, but the red sand yielded unfluted and Folsom points. Scharbauer is known for its early Paleo-Indian component. Later Paleo-Indian and Archaic points also have been found there.

On the basis of stratigraphy, carbon-14, and U-series dating, as well as bone fluorine content, the skull was regarded as pre-Folsom. Folsom materials were found in the red sand, and a carbon-14 date of 13,400 ± 1,200 years B.P. was obtained on snail shell from the white sand. Radiocarbon and U-series dates were procured for the gray sand, but they were rejected due to ambiguous results. The white and gray sands' bone fluorine content also suggested a similar age for the skull and the Pleistocene fauna. However, Vance Holliday and David Meltzer noted that fluorine content is a postdepositional aspect of bones and dependent on environmental conditions. Since the Midland Site has been subjected to constant wind erosion, a similar fluorine content of exposed fossil bones is expected. New interpretations of the gray sand imply that the Midland Skull may be contemporaneous with or younger than Folsom. Research of the early 1990s estimated the gray sand to be 12,400 years old and hypothesized a postdepositional redistribution of the skull and other cultural materials from overlying levels. On the other hand, Holliday and Meltzer saw the gray sand as "a valley-margin facies of a highly calcareous sandy loam" present in most draws of the area. Radiocarbon dates for the gray sand are not available, but more than thirty dates from other localities throughout the Llano Estacado indicate an age of less than 10,000 ears B.P. C. Mckinney obtained an age of 11,600 ± 800 years B.P. for the Midland Skull, lending support to Wendorf's earlier proposition. However, there are problems with Mckinney's U-series averages and differential weathering of the bone samples.

There are still unresolved questions about the origin of the gray sand and deposition of associated fossils. The acceptance of the Midland Skull as one of the oldest in North America is dependent on absolute dates and definitive cultural and fossil associations. The age of the unfluted points, known today as Midland, is also problematic. At the Wilson-Leonard Site only Midland points were found in a deposit dated 10,500 to 9,700 B.P., suggesting that they were manufactured during Folsom times. However, their distribution and relationship to Folsom assemblages is far from settled.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website
J. Hofman, "Recognition and Interpretation of Folsom Technological Variability in the Southern Plains," in Ice Age Hunters of the Rockies, ed. D. Stanford and J. Day (Denver: Denver Museum of Natural History and University Press of Colorado, 1992). V. Holliday and D. Meltzer, "Geoarchaeology of the Midland (Paleoindian) Site and the Age of the Midland Skull," Current Research in the Pleistocene 10 (1993). F. Wendorf et al., The Midland Discovery: A Report on the Pleistocene Human Remains from Midland, Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1955). F. Wendorf and J. Hester, Late Pleistocene Environments of the Southern High Plains (Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico: Fort Burgwin Research Center, 1975). F. Wendorf and A. Krieger, "New Light on the Midland Discovery," American Antiquity 25 (1959).

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

Valentina L. Martinez, “Midland Site,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/midland-site.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: