Elmer Lindsey and Bill Richmonds survey the looting in the main field at Gault
The Gault Site has been known by archaeologists for at least 78 years. In 1929, the first anthropologist at the University of Texas, J.E. Pearce, had a crew excavating at the site for eight weeks. Though primarily interested in the Archaic burnt-rock midden showing on the surface Pearce's crew managed to excavate a handful of Paleoindian artifacts including Clovis cultural materials more than 2 years before the discoveries at Blackwater Draw.
The site was located on a farm owned by Henry Gault and his wife Jodie. The land was marginal for farming and Gault supplemented his meager income by scouting out archaeological sites for Pearce's friend Alex Dienst, later president of the Texas State Historical Association, running errands for Pearce's crew and finally backfilling Pearce's excavation.
Over the years the land changed hands several times but was the focus for a great deal of collecting and looting. One of Pearce's colleagues looked at the site in 1930 and commented on the young men digging for artifacts there. Some of these collectors worked on a grand scale with large crews and even heavy machinery. Eventually a commercial pay-to-dig operation allowed collectors the opportunity to dig at the now-famous Gault Site for a mere $2 a day (later $25).
Archaeologists at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Historical Commission kept an eye on the site but could not come to any agreement with the landowner regarding professional excavation. Visits in 1988 and a brief excavation in 1991 established that, although much of the site dating from 9,000 years ago to the present was irreparably damaged intact Paleoindian strata remained deep down below the site.
The land changed ownership in 1998 and a group from the University of Texas at Austin led by paleontologist Dr. Ernie Lundelius and archaeologist Dr. Michael Collins were asked by the new owners to look at something they'd exposed at the site. It turned out to be the lower jaw of a juvenile mammoth and some ancient horse bones surrounded by a large number of Clovis artifacts.
A three year lease between the University and the landowners allowed the first extensive research excavations at Gault. Between 1999 and 2002 more than 1.4 million artifacts were recovered - about half of them of Clovis age. A unique Clovis feature, a stone floor, was discovered as well as more than one hundred engraved stones - amongst the earliest art in the Americas.
More than 2,300 volunteers worked on the Gault Project during those years ranging from schoolchildren to graduate students to retirees. A number of universities cooperated in the excavation including Texas A& M University, Brigham Young University and University of Exeter. The Texas Archeological Society and its affiliates provided many eager volunteers as well as groups like the PaleoCultural Research Group from Arizona and the New Hampshire State Conservation and Rescue Archaeology Program (SCRAP).
In 2006 the Gault School was incorporated as a Texas nonprofit in an attempt to work toward acquiring the site and furthering both our research and educational goals. In February of 2007 that dream became a reality and both research and education have begun again.
In August of 2010 the academic Gault Project moved to a new home at Texas State University. Texas State graciously supplied a newly renovated space for our lab and the GSAR supplied the furniture, computers and lab equipment. By September the project was helping to train and educate students in our new home. In 2012 the Gault Project had four students working on PhD's and seven working on MA's (five of them from Texas State).
By June of 2013 the excavations at Gault were substantially completed with the Area 15 excavation reaching bedrock. The GSAR continues the search for very early sites in Texas and throughout the western hemisphere. In 2013 the Gault Project became the Prehistory Research Project and is now primarily lab-based, analyzing and testing toward publication of a comprehensive study of the site.
In June 2019, the Prehistory Research Project moved back to the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. To date, 6 PhD's, 1 MPhil, and 13 MA's have come out of the Gault materials - an estimated 2.6 million artifacts from ca. 3% of the site..