Army chooses Mercyhurst to handle extensive, five-year project at Fort Hood

When you want the job done right, you find an expert.

That is why the U.S. Army partnered with the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute to assist with the Cultural Resource Management program at Fort Hood, Texas, during a five-year research collaboration that could entail up to $5 million in funding per year depending on the archaeological significance of findings on the installation and continued funding opportunities.

“This project includes, among other challenges, the examination of rock shelters, a type of site in which we specialize,” explained Dr. James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute at Mercyhurst College. “We have the best rock shelter excavation capabilities in the country, and we have developed rigorous protocols for dealing with these shelters – that is primarily why we are involved in this.”

Under the cooperative agreement, Mercyhurst faculty and students have the opportunity to excavate several of the nearly 800 protected archaeological sites at the installation. Over the 25-year history of Fort Hood’s Cultural Resource Management program, 1,110 prehistoric sites and 1,100 historic European settlement sites have been identified.

The college was chosen to handle the general excavations on the Fort’s land primarily because of its reputation as the leading resource in the world for handling rock shelters. Found scattered across the landscape, rock shelters were used over the centuries as camping grounds and for protection from the elements, a usage that often left them with layer upon layer of relics and artifacts. Excavating and understanding the often mixed layers found in rock shelter floors is an art honed by the MAI after its experience handling the world-famous Meadowcroft Rockshelter outside Pittsburgh, Pa., plus others in Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Archaeological research is part of the Cultural Resource Management program required by the Army in order to be in legal compliance with various federal preservation laws and regulations such as the National Historic Preservation Act.

Efforts at Fort Hood will eventually comprise other Mercyhurst science departments, including geology, biology, and chemistry. In all, the project promises to bring to Mercyhurst a rich research opportunity like none seen before at the institution.

MAI staff and students are expected to work at Fort Hood sites for the next five summers, reporting their findings at the end of each field season. About 15-20 students will spend approximately seven weeks in Texas each summer to complete the excavations. Research work will continue throughout the year on the data collected during summer field school operations.

Not only does the project provide an amazing opportunity for Mercyhurst students, it also supplies an opportunity for the college’s archaeology department to broaden research opportunities while expanding its extensive lab facilities.

Dr. Adovasio and Edward Hess, director of grants administration for the college, have been working toward the cooperative agreement with the Army since March 2002, and several students visited the Fort during July 2003 in order to prepare for next summer’s field school.

While the archaeology department has secured large awards in the past, the largest being a $3 million excavation of the site of the planned Texas National Research Superconductor/Supercollider in Waxahachie, Texas, in the early 1990s, it has never been invited to participate in a project of this magnitude.

“This award marks a momentous achievement for the archaeology department, which has long been recognized as one of the country’s outstanding archaeology programs,” said Dr. William P. Garvey, president of Mercyhurst College. “We anticipate a productive working relationship with Fort Hood and those working to preserve the cultural history of Texas.”

This project pairs the MAI and Fort Hood in implementation of a major component of the Fort’s Cultural Resource Management program – the conservation and preservation of important cultural information of and for central Texas. This project encompasses a form of mitigation for the Fort’s archaeological resources, especially those at risk of damage and destruction due to military readiness training activities.

“The benefits of the project are win-win for both Fort Hood and Mercyhurst: Fort Hood is able to address mitigation needs while Mercyhurst has new opportunities for training future researchers while preserving an important part of Texas history – that part told only through artifacts and archaeological site assessment,” said Dr. Cheryl Huckerby, the cultural resource project manager at Fort Hood.

Located on the Edwards Plateau in central Texas, the Fort is home to, among many others, some of the major mechanized units of the U.S. Army. For decades the military has systematically surveyed the acres used for training exercises, locating hundreds of archaeological sites throughout the reservation. Federal law mandates those surveys before an area can be used for training. If the survey and subsequent study of a site identifies it as significant, the area is protected from the rigors of training. If the site location is crucial to readiness training, a mitigation plan is developed to protect the historical information the site contains.

The MAI project began with some initial work this past summer, but next summer marks the true beginning of what promises to be a multi-year seasonal dig at Fort Hood, a prospect that affords outstanding learning opportunities for Mercyhurst archaeology students as well as students from other institutions.

“The Fort and the Texas Historical Commission want these sites intensely studied,” said Adovasio. “We, in turn, are looking for field training opportunities, particular rock shelters as well as open sites. The Fort has a specific set of needs and we are looking for a new vista to offer different opportunities in the field – this works out for everyone.”

Fort Hood was established as Camp Hood in the early 1940s and manages approximately 220,000 acres of public land. It was officially opened in September 1942, and was used during World War II for development and training the Army’s tank destroyer forces. After being renamed Fort Hood in 1950, the military camp continued its mission of training mechanized units of the Army for combat. The Fort is named for the famed Confederate general from Texas, John Bell Hood.

Archaeological resources on the Fort date from about 11,500 years ago to the present and include all of the major periods now recognized in Texas prehistory. All artifacts found at Fort Hood are catalogued and stored by the Fort Hood Cultural Resources Management Program at the Fort.
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