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The Manwell Site

"I shall not easily forget the mortal toil, and the vexations of flesh and spirit, that we underwent occasionally, in our wanderings through the Cross Timber. It was like struggling through forests of cast iron." from A Tour on the Prairies by Washington Irving describing his 1832 journey through that borderland between western prairies and eastern forests called the Cross Timbers

The diversity of animal and plant life in this narrow strip of scrub oak and cedar through the center of Oklahoma has attracted and repelled human travelers for thousands of years. Washington Irving commented on the diversity of wildlife as he crossed the area, and we can imagine that prehistoric hunters found the terrain rich in game. Over 50% of the prehistoric sites reported for Oklahoma County are considered hunting camps. One site, though, the Manwell Site is a hunting camp with a difference.

A member of the Oklahoma Anthropological Society brought the Manwell site to the attention of archeologists in 1981 when he believed oil well drilling might disturb the area. It was determined the oil well posed no danger, but archeologists were interested to learn about the site and document collections from it. For many years, the landowner, for whom the site was named, had collected stone tools including projectile points, pottery and grinding stones. Mr. Manwell allowed archeologists to photograph his collection and test the site with a limited excavation. Based on the results, it was believed that the site had been briefly occupied many times through the Woodland (AD 1-1000) and Plains Village (AD 1000-1500) periods as a temporary hunting camp.

Two years later, archeologists received a phone call from Mr. Manwell. Deep plowing of the area had revealed many dark, circular stains on the soil surface. Archeologists again visited the site and discovered that the plowing had revealed 65 pits filled with burned sandstone, charcoal flecks, some burned animal bone, a few stone tools and some broken pottery.



Archeologists were able to excavate about a third of these pits. All but one of them appear to have been shallow firepits which were later filled with trash. One was a deeper pit probably used for storage. A radiocarbon date from one of the pits showed the pits dated to around the mid-1300s. During this time in other parts of Oklahoma, people were farming corn, beans and squash and living in permanent villages. However, the people at the Manwell site do not appear to fit that pattern. Instead they seem to be a group of people still following the older ways of hunting and gathering and moving from place to place. Their pottery seems like pottery of a group of people from southeastern Kansas and that may have been their place of origin. How did they interact with their more settled, farming neighbors? They may have been traders and messengers moving between farming villages, trading meat for farming crops and serving as a communication link between the different groups of people living on the Southern Plains in this period. Hopefully, future research will find more sites like the Manwell site to answer these intriguing questions.

Prehistoric Sites in Oklahoma County Identified to Time Period

Paleo = ?-8,000 BP / Archaic = 8,000-2,000 BP / Woodland = 2,000-1,000 BP / Village 1000-500 BP
BP (before present)


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