Texas Historical Commission

Drought is revealing historic treasures

A ship in deep South Texas periodically appears above the water. Many other sunken ships could be seen again as Texas' rivers and lakes dry up

By Allan Turner - My San Antonio

All across Texas, the bones of history lie in watery graves. From the ribs of sunken ships to the grave sites of prehistoric Texans, uncounted treasures abound beneath the surface of rivers and lakes.

For state archaeologists, these sites are untapped treasures — hard to reach but relatively protected.

But now, with the state in the grip of devastating drought, such sites are emerging from receding waters and — for the first time in years, experts worry — becoming vulnerable to looters and vandals.

Since midsummer, the Texas Historical Commission, which oversees such locations, has on average learned of a newly exposed site each month, said Pat Mercado-Allinger, the agency's archaeology director.

Among the sites are four cemeteries, including an apparent slave burial ground in Navarro County, southeast of Dallas. In Central Texas, fishermen recovered a human skull thought to be thousands of years old.

An unspecified number of additional sites have emerged from waters overseen by the Lower Colorado River Authority. An agency spokeswoman refused to discuss details, saying that even divulging the number of newly exposed sites could induce the unscrupulous to search out and pilfer them.

East Texas waterways shroud dozens of sunken vessels, from early Texas ferries to steamboats and World War I-era cargo ships.

While most of these craft probably remain underwater, their appearance above water could occur at any time, said state nautical archaeologist Amy Borgens.

Such sites, most of which were submerged before Texans became appreciative of archaeological treasures, can be vital in helping researchers fill the gaps of state history, Mercado-Allinger said.

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