Construction of Hwy 99 has been temporarily delayed as the Texas Department of Transportation has discovered prehistoric human remains in its path, according to The Houston Chronicle:
Construction cannot continue in the area until a Harris County judge grants TxDOT’s request to remove the bones and any others that may be found nearby. The agency filed the application this week in the court of 234th District Judge Reece Rondon.
TxDOT spokeswoman Karen Othon said the agency is hopeful the find will not cause any delays because crews, in the meantime, can work elsewhere on the project, a 15-mile, four-lane toll road that would be part of an outer beltway around greater Houston.
“It is a rare find,” Othon said, “but it is part of the environmental process.”
TxDOT’s request comes a month after an archaeologist confirmed the burial site, which included three leg bones and a jaw with teeth. The remains were located about two feet below the surface in sediment that also holds artifacts more than 2,000 years old.
The Comanche and Karankawa tribes once lived on the Katy Prairie, but the human remains are believed to be from the Late Archaic Period, a little-understood era when humans used darts for hunting and began to settle in territories and use stone tools. The bones apparently were bundled for burial in an area that archaeologists believe was a seasonal campsite for small groups.
Earlier archaeological surveys uncovered bison teeth, ceramic fragments and hunting darts near where the beltway would cross Cypress Creek, about three miles south of Highway 290. TxDOT found no evidence of burials during planning.
Federal law requires TxDOT to evaluate any “cultural resources” that may be affected by the project before any work begins. Construction started last September.
TxDOT now expects to find more human remains in the area and has asked the court for permission to remove any and all bones it finds, according to legal documents.
The Sierra Club, which has filed a lawsuit to block construction of the road over flooding concerns in west Harris County, said the discovery underscores the need for more study.
“Without this more complete analysis we will not understand the significance of the remains and any other artifacts for our area and the Katy Prairie,” said Brandt Mannchen, of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter.
The Texas Historical Commission, meanwhile, has no concerns with TxDOT’s plans to remove the bones and rebury them at an “appropriate” but unspecified location.
“They are following the letter of the law,” said Pat Mercado-Allinger, chief archaeologist for the state historical commission. “I’m confident of that.”