Prehistoric bones still stalling Grand Parkway construction

November 26, 2012 4:27:24 PM PST
The discovery of prehistoric remains in the path of the new Grand Parkway has brought construction in that area to a halt. We first told you about the discovery last summer, and the battle over progress versus preserving history continues.

Construction along the Grand Parkway is well underway, except a few miles to the north, where there's a kind of "do not disturb" order -- not until the state and Native American tribal councils can reach an understanding.

Years before the first backhoe began digging the path of the Grand Parkway near Cypress Creek, prehistoric artifacts already had been discovered. But this summer, archeologists hit the mother lode of finds.

"This may be the longest continuous site of human habitation in Harris County," said Glen Van Slyke, an assistant county attorney involved in the project.

Dating back to pre-history, according to the county historical commission's archeologist, six burials were located. The most recent ones date back to about 2,000 years ago. The oldest, which included the bones from three different sets of remains, could date back 14,000 years -- just after the last ice age in Texas.

They're likely the remains of prehistoric people, early Native Americans and yet Van Slyke says the Texas Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the road construction, didn't properly notify the tribal councils about the finds.

"It did surprise me a little bit, because there's an obligation under federal law for TxDOT to consult in a meaningful way with the Native American governments," Van Slyke said.

For weeks, six tribal councils have been involved in negotiations with TxDOT. The agency initially wanted the bones removed and stored while construction continued. That did not happen.

Both sides are now discussing how to respect and preserve the past while accommodating a toll road.

But when construction in the area starts, one more person will be required to be on site.

"The tribal monitor will be present to make sure that there are no further human remains discovered and disturbed by a construction," Van Slyke said.

A TxDOT spokesperson says the agency couldn't comment on the negotiations. But to put this in perspective, this site is believed to be among the most significant and the oldest of its kind in the nation.

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