My home is certainly not a mansion, though I can see some from here. In real estate ads I’ve always heard that it’s all about “location, location, location.” Well, my place does have plenty of that. It’s situated atop a limestone hill overlooking one of the most popular biker roads leading out into the Texas Hill Country. What passes for my back yard is only a ten foot stretch of grass. Beyond that, the hill drops away abruptly in several steep tree covered steps. I like the privacy that the position provides. I also enjoy hiking around down below occasionally to get exercise and also to see what I can find. There’s a lot of history to be found on this weathered hillside.
On a warm spring morning during one of my first years of living here, I came across something that really got me going for a while. At the edge of a gravel trail, I spotted a half buried object. From what I could see, it looked like the ridges of a mammoth molar. These extinct creatures roamed this part of Texas tens of thousands of years ago. I remembered seeing a tooth for sale here in the Austin area for several hundred bucks. I knelt down and started digging, totally unaware that the small mound of dirt was actually a fire ant bed. That unawareness was brief as my hands were attacked by much smaller critters than the mammoth, but I snatched the fossil up and dusted away the ants. Back at the house I washed off my find and got a better look at it. Once I could see both sides, I realized I had not found a tooth. It was something much older: a chunk of sea coral, here on a hill at least two hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico. That seems odd now, but some 60 million years ago most of Texas was covered by a shallow sea. The white Austin limestone that my house rests upon was formed entirely from the shells of ancient sea creatures. The hill itself wasn’t here at that time. Later earthquakes pushed up the rough terrain. In places this exposed not only solid sedimentary rock, but also stretches of the actual sea floor as it last existed. About half way down the hill there is a band of oyster shells and seashells that look like they could have just been cracked open. Here is a photo of some of the things I’ve found while “beachcombing” on a hill. The tiny sea anemone is my favorite find so far.
I have also happened upon evidence of more recent times in the past. So far I have found three arrowheads.
Two are small and almost perfect and the third is a fragment of a larger point meant to take big game. Where my neighbor’s house stands now is a round outcropping of flint that perfectly matches the material of the first small arrowhead that was laying a few feet away. Did the manufacturer throw it angrily away when the corner broke off after hours of sitting there working it? A couple of hills farther south of my place, Lake Travis follows the narrow contours of the Colorado River. People have lived in this area for a very long time, at least by North American standards. About four miles east of here, in the city of Leander, the remains of a very early resident was found in January 1983. Estimated at between 10,000 and 13,000 years old, she is affectionately called the Leanderthal woman.
Well, there are still a couple hours of daylight left today. I think I’ll put on my hiking shoes and go exploring for a bit.
Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.