Published on September 1, 2020

Who is BZT-1, and where is she after 12,000 years?

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

I‘ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the ground we walk on in Brazoria County is full of history and mystery.

I’ve been trying off and on for years to flesh out the mystery I reveal to you today.

Back in 1999, while digging a trench in an old meander of Cocklebur Slough in The San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, the top of a human skull was discovered.

It was left alone until the first excavation of the body’s remains, starting in 2001. The discovery is possibly the oldest human remains found in both North and South America.

They named her BZT-1 Prehistoric Woman.

The idea of a mysterious lady 12,000 years old being found in an old meander of Cocklebur Slough in the refuge interested me, so I started researching BZT-1. Several things came up – one was a final report at the end of the second dig in 2003.

After reading the paper “Geoarchaeological and Archaeological Investigations of the BZT-1 Prehistoric Woman; Brazoria County, Texas,” her story still haunts me.

BZT-1 – guess that means Brazoria, Texas 1 (for the first site)

I like to call her Texas’ real first lady.

But ... who was she? What happened to her that she wound up here? And why, after all the changes brought on by hurricanes, floods, predation and years of human habitation of the area did she reappear – almost intact - uncovered by digging a borrow ditch?

There were two separate digs (one in 2001 and one in 2003) to determine who she was. The report concluded that BZT-1 was a female between 20 and 30 years of age when she died. She did not appear to be intentionally buried, and her skeleton was found lying face down, in an extended position with her hands crossed and tied in front of her beneath her waist.

BZT-1 seems to have been killed after having her hands tied in front of her - and then discarded in the muddy bank of a now-extinct channel of Cocklebur Slough. There were no other artifacts found with her skeleton and no evidence of a community.

The radiocarbon dating of her bones were calibrated to 12,780 calendar years old, with a 2-sigma (95% accuracy). This would make her remains one of the oldest – if not THE oldest human remains ever found on the North AND South American continents.

And she was found right here - in our backyard.

But now, her story gets even stranger. You’d think that since her skeleton was as old as it was proven to be, that where she was located should be listed in the National Register of Historic Places – but no, that was not to be.

Although an application was made to put the place she was discovered in the register, it was determined that since there were no other artifacts, no burial evidence, and all of the remains had been removed, Cocklebur Slough would not qualify.

However, the skeletal remains of BZT-1, as a collection, are recommended as eligible for immediate inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. So far, that hasn’t happened either.

Pieces of her body went several places for various tests, but what happened to what was left of her remains?

I have read two reports, each saying she is permanently curated in different cities. One report says she is at The Center for Archaeological Research (CAR) at University of Texas in Austin. The second report says the remains are housed at The Center for Archaeological Research UT in San Antonio.

I wanted to visit BZT-1 and see how she was doing. After calling and emailing both centers, I finally heard back from Cynthia Moore Munoz (MA, RPA Principal Investigator/Senior Project Archaeologist/Lead Curator) at The Center for Archaeological Research UT in San Antonio.

Our mysterious lady is being held at the facility in San Antonio. Sadly, she says, they have no more information on her than the reports you can Google and read. Her remains are not available for general viewing and are held in trust for the U.S. Department of the Interior and fall under Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

As such, they are only available to qualified researchers for studies approved by the Department of the Interior.

I also received an email from Brian Roberts, PhD (Director Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory) at the Austin facility. He wrote that we shall hear something from Marybeth Tomka, Head of Collections, who not only knows the creations but also spent many years at CAR. Maybe we’ll find out more … I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, while we are in this pandemic’s stay-at-home phase, maybe this mystery will give you a little something to think about – and a reason to go exploring the great outdoors.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)