By Audrey Spencer
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - Residents with an interest in dinosaurs and early humans are just a stone tool's throw from one stop on the Prehistoric Texas Trail.
Bell County Museum is the second-southernmost stop on a trail of sites that leads visitors on "a 100 million year journey through Central Texas," according to a brochure.
The Bell County Museum's permanent exhibit on the Gault Site, an excavation site in Florence, offers an interactive simulated archeology pit for children to get a hands-on approach at the work archeologists do.
"The exhibit is an introduction to the actual Gault Site itself," said Stephanie Turnham, director of the Bell County Museum. "That's our connection. Our goal is to get people to visit all the different sites."
Clark Wernecke, executive director of the Gault School of Archaeological Research in Florence, said the Prehistoric Trail will be similar to historical trails throughout the state.
"There's a whole series of heritage trails in Texas, but they tend to emphasize historical things," he said. "They didn't have something for us, really. We're trying to raise awareness of what we do."
The Gault Site is one of the largest excavated sites of Clovis people, a culture that existed 13,500 years ago, according to the trail brochure. The excavation will be going on for another year and a half, said Wernecke, and tours can be arranged to see the archeologists in action.
Though the trail program is still in its infancy, said Turnham, the partnership of directors on each of the sites looks forward to expanding it.
"The goal is to promote science, promote our different cultural entities, promote tourism," she said. "Learn some things and enjoy other activities available in other communities."
Other relatively nearby stops on the tour include the Waco Mammoth Site, where visitors can view remains of a bull mammoth and camel that lived about 68,000 years ago, and The Mayborn Museum in Waco, which offers interactive and hands-on exhibits including a palm tree stump from the Tertiary Period and the largest fossil marine turtles found in the U.S.
The trail also includes the Bosque Museum in Clifton, Dinosaur World and Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
"Each of us has a little overlap," said Wernecke. "The Gault Site mammoth kill site overlaps the Waco Mammoth Sites. The Waco Mammoth Site also has exhibits in the Mayborn and Bell County Museums."
Sites on the trail sometimes surprise people, said Wernecke, because they think historical sites are only in faraway places.
"They show you the pyramids and Stonehenge," he said. "They don't realize that stuff is everywhere in the world and we have some pretty neat stuff here at home."
To view or download the brochure, which includes information on all eight sites on the trail, visit www.prehistorictexas.org, or stop by the Bell County Museum, at 201 N. Main St. in Belton.
Contact Audrey Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476.