Leanderthal land in limbo

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In 1982, while working on an expansion of RM 1431 in Cedar Park, Texas road excavation crews uncovered the skeleton of a woman who had been buried for 10,000 years. The easement had been donated by Will Wilson Sr., who also owned the adjacent property.

Shortly after the discovery, Wilson, wanting to memorialize his wife and create a public educational center for the city of Cedar Park, donated 2 1/2 acres of land to the Archaeological Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based out of New Mexico, under the condition that the site be used as an archaeological laboratory, which would be named after Marjorie Ashcroft Wilson.

More than a decade later, Will Wilson Jr. said he feels betrayed, both by the Conservancy and by the state of Texas.

“I'm just so frustrated,” he said. “It's been such a disappointment, the whole thing.” In 2005, Wilson Land and Cattle Co., the company owned by Wilson Sr., granted the donated land to Wilson Jr., claiming the Conservancy had not met the conditions of the original agreement. The Conservancy disputed the claim, and filed a lawsuit to get the land back.

Earlier this month, District Judge Burt Carnes agreed with Wilson and granted him ownership.

Representatives from the Conservancy could not be reached for this article, but have said publicly in the past that they did not break their promise, and had met all the terms of the agreement. They contended it was important to conserve the land until technology advanced enough to excavate without damaging the artifacts underneath the soil.

In the mean time, according to court documents, the Conservancy was trading a portion of the donated land which had no archaeological significance for another piece of property. Wilson accused the Conservancy of selling the land while pretending it was a trade. However, Wilson said he was more upset with the state for approving the transaction. In 1992, Texas declared the land to be a State Archaeological Landmark - a plaque still stands beside 1431, between Parmer Lane and Sam Bass Road.

“Why is the state approving sales of state archaeological landmarks?” Wilson asked. He said the claim of conservation archaeology is a way of “hiding” the land from the public, along with a plaque dedicating the land as the Marjorie Ashcroft Archaeological Preserve. The plaque can't be seen from the road, and a brief search of the area by HCN reporters revealed no sign of it.

Wilson said he had hoped someone would build a unique museum or an interpretive center on the land, but now the fate of the historic site is in limbo.

According to Wilson, the Conservancy is appealing the decision, which will tie the land up in court for at least another year. Also, Wilson said he cannot afford to build such a center, and does not trust another organization to pay for it, either.

“I'm pretty beat up by all these people who have promised these things” and not delivered, he said. “It was supposed to be - among other things - a memorial to my mother. As far as the people of Cedar Park are concerned, this was for them. So what happens now, I don't know.”

E-mail amy@hillcountrynews.com

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