Laura Vilsack is a visiting researcher from the Gault School of Archeological Research. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
In 2001 and 2002, field crews collected 610 bulk soil samples from a single excavation block (Area 12) at the Gault Site in Bell County, Texas. Today, these soil samples are currently being stored at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL). I recently contacted TARL and borrowed a portion of the soil samples for magnetic susceptibility analysis to expand upon my thesis research completed in 2016 (Figures 1 and 2). For my thesis work (Vilsack 2016), I focused mainly on the vertical stratigraphy and depositional processes within Area 12 specifically relating to a unique prehistoric cobble feature dating to approximately 14,900 cal B.P. Additional research, from the loaned soil samples, allowed me to extend sampling horizontally across the block instead of just a single vertical profile.
Analyzing the soil samples provides a great opportunity for me to address various questions concerning cultural activities around the cobble feature without having to return to the site to excavate the feature again. This feature is approximately 2 by 2 meters wide and varies in thickness between 5 to 15 centimeters. While the surface of the feature yielded very few artifacts, there was an abundance of Clovis and Older-than-Clovis lithic materials surrounding the cobbles.
After acquiring a broad understanding of the depositional environment surrounding the feature, my next goal is to determine if there were any potential signatures of cultural or natural anomalies directly above, at the same elevation as, and within 10 to 15 centimeters below the cobble feature. While magnetic susceptibility by itself does not reveal what type of anomalies occurred, it does aid in the identification of disturbances in the sediments relating but not limited to buried paleosols, movement of soils, organic debris left by humans and areas exposed to heat (Crowther 2003; Tite and Mullins 1971), middens (Dalan and Bevan 2002), and/or pits. Any anomalies detected with a magnetic susceptibility reader are of course dependent on the environment, type of soil, extent of the occupation, and density of the occupation. However, I expect and hope the results will highlight areas to focus further analysis on and reaffirm potential activity areas and/or toss zones identified by artifact densities and distributions that once surrounded this unique prehistoric feature.
2003 Potential Magnetic Susceptibility and Fractional Conversion Studies of Archaeological Soils and Sediments. Archaeometry 45(4):685-701.
Dalan, Rinita A. and Bruce W. Bevan
2002 Geophysical Indicators of Culturally Emplaced Soils and Sediments. Geoarchaeology: An International Journal 17(8):779-810.
Tite, M.S. and C. Mullins
1971 Enhancement of the Magnetic Susceptibility of Soils on Archaeological Sites. Archaeometry 13(2):209-219.
2016 Investigations of Area 12: Gault Site. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas State University, San Marcos.
Timothy K. Perttula is an Affiliated Researcher at TARL. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
41AG22 is an Historic Caddo site on Jack Creek in the Neches River basin, about 10 km southwest of Lufkin, Texas (Figure 1). The site was located and recorded in November 1939 by Gus Arnold as ET-622 of the University of Texas during the WPA-sponsored archaeological survey of East Texas. This ancestral Caddo site covered about 3 acres in a plowed field, and was marked by three possible mounds about 18-23 m in diameter.
In 1924, the landowner, a Mr. Jumper, plowed the land where the site is located, and uncovered a human burial with a European trade and glass beads. About 10 years later, Jack Creek flooded and cut a channel through one of the possible mounds, exposing more human remains and ceramic sherds. When Arnold visited the site in November 1939, he collected ancestral Caddo ceramic sherds, lithic tools and debris, and one human molar from the plowed field. As part of long-term East Texas Caddo archaeological research, I recently analyzed the ceramic sherds from the site held by the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin (TARL).
Five of the 199 sherds in the 41AG22 ceramic assemblage are from sandy paste Goose Creek Plain, var. unspecified vessels. These are indicative of a Mossy Grove Culture occupation at the site during some part of the Woodland period (ca. 500 B.C. to A.D. 800). The remainder of the ceramic sherds from 41AG22 (n=194) are from ancestral Caddo vessels. When Dee Ann Story examined the 41AG22 sherds in 1985, she suggested that the site had “at least two components—Early Ceramic (sandy paste sherds & dart points) and Late Caddoan. Very high frequency of brushing suggests quite late Caddoan. Notable is the thickness of some brushed sherds and the incidence of brushed-incised.”
The ancestral Caddo sherds from the sherd are overwhelmingly (91 percent) from grog-tempered vessels. Eight percent of the sherds are from vessels with grog and/or bone or crushed hematite inclusions, and only 0.5 percent of the Caddo sherds are tempered solely with bone.
Only about 15 percent of the ceramic sherds are from plain vessels or the undecorated portions of decorated vessels. One of the plain body sherds has a 5.4 mm drilled perforation, and this sherd may have been used as a spindle whorl. The remainder are from utility ware vessels (n=158, or 95.8 percent of the decorated sherds) or fine ware vessels (n=7, 4.2 percent of the decorated sherds). The plain to decorated sherd ratio (P/DR) of the assemblage is 0.18, consistent with Allen phase sites in the Neches River basin to the north (Perttula and Stingley 2017:Table 22) as well as a few of the Allen phase sites on Bayou Loco in the Angelina River basin, east of 41AG22 (Perttula and Marceaux 2018:Tables 17 and 18). The brushed to plain sherd ratio of the 41AG22 assemblage is 5.17, and the ratio of brushed to other wet paste sherds is 3.75; both ratios are consistent with an East Texas Allen phase ceramic affiliation.
More than 90 percent of the decorated sherds from 41AG22 have brushing marks, either as the sole form of decoration, or in conjunction with appliqued, incised, or punctated decorative elements. The brushed sherds are from Bullard Brushed vessels that have horizontal or vertical-diagonal brushing marks on the rim and opposed, overlapping, and parallel (likely vertically oriented) brushing marks on the vessel body. A number of the brushed-incised (n=20) and the brushed-punctated (n=2) sherds are also from Bullard Brushed vessels. Many of these sherds are from large and thick (>12-15 mm) jars.
One brushed-appliqued body sherd has diagonal brushing marks and a straight appliqued fillet (Figure 2a). Thirteen brushed-incised body sherds are from Spradley Brushed-Incised jars. This utility ware is found on Historic Caddo Allen phase sites in the Neches-Angelina river basins in East Texas. It consists of parallel brushing elements with overlapping straight incised lines that are opposed or perpendicular to the brushing.
The two sherds with parallel grooves in the 41AG22 assemblage are from a Lindsey Grooved vessel. Lindsey Grooved is an Allen phase utility ware type comprised of large bowls or jars with direct or slightly everted rims. The rims have shallow horizontal grooves. Lindsey Grooved vessels also occur in conjunction with appliqued, brushed, incised, or punctated elements, typically placed either at the rim-body juncture or on the vessel body. Other utility ware sherds have incised, incised-punctated, and punctated elements on rim and body sherds from vessels of unknown types. One of the incised-punctated sherds has two closely-spaced horizontal incised lines and an associated row of triangular-shaped punctations (see Figure 2b).
The fine ware sherds in the 41AG22 assemblage include sherds from vessels with engraved (n=6) or trailed (n=1) lines. Three of the engraved sherds are from Patton Engraved vessels; such fine wares are one of the principal types in Historic Caddo Allen phase sites in East Texas. One of the Patton Engraved body sherds has upper and lower parallel rows of linear tick marks, and is from a Patton Engraved, var. Allen vessel (Perttula 2011:Figure 6-66a). The other two Patton Engraved sherds cannot be identified to a specific variety (Figure 3a-b). Another engraved rim sherd has both horizontal and vertical engraved lines (Figure 3c). Two other engraved sherds are from different carinated bowls. The first (Figure 3d) has horizontal engraved lines and a diagonal/cross-hatched zone between two of the horizontal engraved lines. The second carinated bowl sherd has opposed diagonal engraved lines and zones filled with diagonal hatched lines (Figure 3e). The parallel trailed sherd is likely from a post-A.D. 1680 Keno Trailed vessel, probably a bowl (see Suhm and Jelks 1962:Plate 44; Schambach and Miller 1984:123).
This analysis of the TARL collections from the site indicates that it was used first during the Woodland period, but that the principal use of the site was by Caddo peoples affiliated with Hasinai Caddo groups after ca. A.D. 1680 and up to ca. A.D. 1730, based on the recovery of primarily grog-tempered vessel sherds from known Allen phase ceramic types, including Patton Engraved, Lindsey Grooved, and Spradley Brushed-Incised, and one sherd of Keno Trailed. The specific cultural affiliation of the Caddo occupants of 41AG22 is not known, as almost all of the ethnographic and archival documents concern Caddo groups living near the Camino Real de los Tejas, not farther down the Neches River (see Perttula 1992:Figure 22). The Nacono are one possibility, as they lived below and to the south of the Camino Real, but they are only mentioned infrequently after ca. A.D. 1716 in archival documents, and may have “lost their separate ethnic and band identity” (Perttula 1992:220) by that time.
Perttula, T. K.
1992 “The Caddo Nation”: Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Perspectives. University of Texas Press, Austin.
2011 The Ceramic Artifacts from the Lang Pasture Site (41AN38) and the Place of the Site within an Upper Neches River Basin Caddo Ceramic Tradition. In Archeological Investigations at the Lang Pasture Site (41AN38) in the Upper Neches River Basin of East Texas, assembled and edited by T. K. Perttula, D. B. Kelley, and R. A. Ricklis, pp. 145-320. Archeological Studies Program Report No. 129, Texas Department of Transportation, Environmental Affairs Division, Austin.
Perttula, T. K. and P. Marceaux
2018 The Lithic and Ceramic Artifacts from the Spradley Site (41NA206), Nacogdoches County, Texas. Special Publication No. 50. Friends of Northeast Texas Archaeology, Austin and Pittsburg.
Perttula, T. K. and K. Stingley
2017 Archaeological Investigations at the Walnut Branch (41CE47), Ross I (41CE485), and Ross II (41CE486) Sites, Cherokee County, Texas. Journal of Northeast Texas Archaeology 76:31-70.
Schambach, F. F. and J. E. Miller
1984 A Description and Analysis of the Ceramics. In Cedar Grove: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of a Late Caddo Farmstead in the Red River Valley, edited by N. L. Trubowitz, pp. 109-170. Research Series No. 23. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.
Suhm, D. A. and E. B. Jelks (editors)
1962 Handbook of Texas Archeology: Type Descriptions. Special Publication No. 1, Texas Archeological Society, and Bulletin No. 4, Texas Memorial Museum, Austin.
Christopher W. Ringstaff is a visiting researcher from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
For the past several months, I have been looking at prehistoric flint knapping implements in the collections at TARL. As an experimental archeologist, having the best understanding of prehistoric tool kits used in chipped-stone tool manufacturing improves the quality and resolution of my research. The following is a brief overview of this research discussing sites, tools, and replicated tools.
I examined collections from sites spanning three regions of Texas: Central Texas, the Lower Pecos, and the Coastal Plain. Sites studied included Gault (41BL323), Fate Bell (41VV74), Eagle Cave (41VV163), Morhiss Mound (41VT1), and the Crestmont Site (41WH39). The sites range in age from Early to Late Archaic. The items from Gault may be older but are from the Pearce Collection, an impressive but poorly provenienced collection made by one of the earliest investigators of the site. The site types from which these knapping implements were recovered are varied and include open campsites, rock shelters, and burial sites.
The knapping implements reviewed included antler billets for direct percussion, antler tines for pressure flaking, and antler segments commonly referred to as punches or drifts for indirect percussion. Although many of the specimens were utilitarian and were apparently discarded, in the case of Crestmont and Morhiss Mound, some items were found together as knapping kits interred with deceased individuals as grave goods. Notable are the knapping kits found with burials associated with Features 4 and 9 at the Crestmont Site, which included an array of well manufactured punches. Also remarkable was the knapping kit from Burial 119 at Morhiss Mound that included a wide range of knapping tools including billets, tines, and possible punches. All of the Burial 119 artifacts remain covered in ochre.
The attributes of these artifacts were used to model experimental knapping tools for replication and comparative use-wear. As an example, the size and weight of the antler billet from Fate Bell, among the larger ones thus far observed, was used to model an experimental billet as shown in Figures 1 and 2. Of particular interest during the course of this research were the punches used for indirect percussion. From the attribute data collected, replica punches were made and used in extensive experimentation. Initial results show consistency in use damage between the actual and experimental tools as shown in Figures 3 and 4. Results from this research should be completed in time to be presented at the 2018 TAS annual meeting.
Wilson W. Crook, III is an Affiliated Researcher with TARL. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
During our recent work with the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection on behalf of the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas, a number of unique bifacially flaked artifacts were observed from sites near the Trinity River in Liberty County (Crook et al. 2017). These artifacts were constructed from small, oblong cobbles that retained their original shape on the proximal end but had been bifacially flaked on the proximal end to form a sharp, tapered point. Similar tools have been recovered from sites within the McGee Bend (now Sam Rayburn) Reservoir in the mid-1960’s (Jelks 1965, 2017). Jelks named the artifacts “Perkin Pikes” but noted that this was a temporary designation as their true function was unknown. As a result, a study was undertaken using high power digital microscopy in an effort to observe use wear patterns which might help determine the tool’s true function.
The Perkin Pike
In a detailed study of 13 sites prior to the construction of the McGee Bend (Sam Rayburn) Reservoir, Ed Jelks noted the occurrence of 121 artifacts which he termed “Perkin Pikes”. The artifacts were constructed from relatively small (<100 mm) oblong river cobbles. The most common lithic material was chert but cobbles of other materials (quartzite, silicified wood) were also used. Many of these cobbles were rectangular in cross-section. In each case, the proximal end of the cobble was left unmodified while the distal end was bifacially flaked to form a tapered point. Dimensions for artifacts made from chert ranged from 28-72 mm in length, 19-41 mm in width, and 10-23 mm in thickness. Jelks did not make an attempt to determine the artifacts’ function, stating that the term “Pike” was simply used to describe the tools’ tapered point (Jelks 1965, 2017). Perkin Pike-like tools were also described by Tunnell (1961) from McGee Bend, by Wheat (1953) from Addicks Reservoir in Harris County, and by Jelks (1962) from Texarkana Reservoir.
Perkin Pikes from Liberty County
In our study of the 30,000+ piece Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, a total of 15 tools were identified which seemed to be identical to Jelks’ Perkin Pikes. The artifacts were found in collections from four sites in Liberty County including Wood Springs (41LB15), Savoy (41LB27), Knight’s Bayou (41LB61), and Moss Hill (41LB65). Eleven of the artifacts were constructed from chert cobbles, two from quartzite and two from silicified (petrified) wood (Table 1).
Size of the artifacts was fairly consistent with lengths ranging from 55.5 – 77.6 mm; widths from 28.8 – 38.0 mm; and thicknesses from 14.2 – 25.7 mm. Average tool dimension was 67.7 x 32.4 x 22.2 mm (see Table 1). Average length-to-width ratio is close to 2:1 and average length-to-thickness ratio is near 3:1. All of the artifacts had a rectangular cross-section with the cobble’s original cortex remaining on the proximal end to about one-third the length of the cobble. The distal end was bifacially flaked into a crude point. An example of a typical Perkin Pike from the Moss Hill site is shown in Figure 1.
Seven of the artifacts were examined under high power (20-220x) using a Dino-Lite AM-4111-T digital microscope. Several of the specimens showed a high degree of polish on the proximal end of the artifact on the cobble cortex. This sheen is consistent with the tool having been hafted while in use (Keeley 1980). On the distal end, five of the artifacts showed some polish on the tip of the point. This polish was present only on the distal end of the point and not on any of the lateral edges extending back from the point toward the unmodified proximal end. Detailed examination showed the polish to extend around the circumference of the distal end, consistent with wear from a rotary motion on a material such as leather (Keeley 1980). It is therefore suggested that the Perkin Pikes examined from the Liberty County sites were used as a perforator type tool.
Conclusions and Discussion
The Perkin Pike is a minor but consistent component of the Late Prehistoric occupation in sites from Liberty County. The 15 artifacts observed from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection are consistent in size and composition to those described by Jelks (1965, 2017) from sites in the Angelina River drainage now submerged beneath Sam Rayburn Reservoir. As noted by Jelks (2017), chert cobbles were the preferred lithic material for manufacturing Perkin Pikes although examples are known both from Sam Rayburn Reservoir and from the Kyle Collection from both silicified wood and quartzite. Workmanship is limited with only the distal end of the cobble being flaked to a bifacial point. Microscopic examination shows polish developed on the unmodified dorsal and ventral surfaces of the proximal end which is indicative of the tool having been hafted during use. Rotary polish was observed on the distal tip on several specimens from the Kyle Collection suggesting the tool was used on material such as leather. As such, the Perkin “Pike” might be better defined as the “Perkin Perforator” and used by the aboriginal inhabitants of Southeast Texas as a specialized tool for the manufacture of leather (probably deer skin) goods.
Crook, Wilson W., III, Robert J. Sewell, Linda C. Gorski and Louis F. Aulbach
2017 The Andy Kyle Archeological Collection. Report of the Houston Archeological Society, No. 29:13-56. Houston.
Jelks, Edward B.
1962 The Kyle Site: A Stratified Central Texas Aspect Site in Hill County, Texas. University of Texas Archeological Series No. 5.
1965 The Archeology of McGee Bend Reservoir, Texas. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas, Austin.
2017 The Archeology of Sam Rayburn Reservoir. CRHR Research Reports: Vol. 3, Article 1. http://scholarworks.sfasu.edu/crhr_research_reports/vol3
Keeley, Lawrence H.
1980 Experimental Determination of Stone tools Uses: A Microwear Analysis. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Tunnell. Curtis D.
1961 Evidence of a Late Archaic Horizon at Three Sites in the McGee Bend Reservoir, San Augustine County, Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 32:123-158.
Wheat, Joe Ben
1953 River Basin Survey Papers No. 4: Archeological Survey of the Addicks Dam Basin, Southeast Texas. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 154. Washington, D. C.
Gus Costa is a visiting researcher from Moore Archeological Consulting, Inc. This article is a part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
Last year our team unearthed several curious bits of groundstone items in advance of road construction on Houston’s west side. One of these objects had been drilled all the way through; a defining characteristic of problematic, perforated, groundstone objects commonly known as “bannerstones.” As the leading “rock geek” of our office, I had the chance to help better determine what these broken bits represent, what they might mean, and why they’re important.
Descriptions of bannerstones go back to the Civil War era when they were regularly labeled as “problematicals”. Some authors called them whale-tails, thunder-bird emblems, ceremonial axes, maces, and butterfly stones. Charles Conrad Abbott coined the term “bannerstone” in 1876. Most early observers were stuck by the elaborateness of these soft and fragile stone items. For nearly half a century the academic consensus was that these items represented non-utilitarian, ceremonial items. In the 1920s bannerstones found alongside antler hooks and handles led to the popular inference that bannerstones were used as spear-thrower or atlatl weights. The debate continues today as to what function(s) these enigmatic artifacts might have served.
Bannerstones appear during the Archaic Period between 6000-5000 B.C. in the Ohio River Valley and parts of the Mid-Atlantic. They proliferate during the Middle Archaic and are replaced in the Late Archaic (at approximately 1800 B.C.) by boatstones (another type of groundstone artifact) and gorgets. Bannerstones are scarcely known in the archeological record of Texas. Only a handful of bannerstones are present within the Texas Archeological Research Lab (TARL). Last year I visited TARL to examine some of these artifacts as part of a larger effort to characterize the Archaic bannerstones of Texas. At present I’ve documented nearly 40 bannerstones from all over Texas, primarily in the southeastern areas along the Gulf Coastal Plain. Bannerstones are fascinating, uniquely American artifacts that are rare, neglected and difficult to make. They can also be useful indicators of long distance exchange of materials and ideas. Petrographic analysis of the bannerstones found by the Moore Archeological team show that an exotic source of granite, hundreds of miles away from Houston, was exploited by Archaic people.
Richard Walter and Andy Cloud are visiting researchers from the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
In the 1940s, pioneer archaeologist J. Charles Kelley hypothesized that sometime after A.D. 1450, villagers from the La Junta region began making their own pottery rather than acquiring it from outside sources in the Casas Grandes and Jornada Mogollon regions as they had done for the previous two hundred years. Their new, local-made pottery was distinguished from earlier wares by being largely undecorated sand-tempered brownwares with a lesser number of decorated and surface-treated vessels bearing simple designs (Fig. 1). Limited petrographic and Instrumental Neutron Activation Analyses (INAA) have largely supported Kelley’s hypothesis, but additional analyses are needed to refine our understanding of these local wares. The La Junta Ceramic Project, designed to address this shortcoming, focuses on these later brownwares from five village sites at La Junta. The Center for Big Bend Studies (CBBS) plans to submit around 300 sherds for both INAA and petrographic analyses from collections housed at the CBBS and the Museum of the Big Bend—both of Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas—and the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) in Austin.
CBBS archeologists Taylor Greer and Richard Walter recently chose ca. 70 plain brownware, red-on- brown, surface-treated, and slipped earthenware sherds from various La Junta village sites housed at TARL. Most of these sherds were recovered from the Millington site (41PS14), a pueblo occupied by various groups over time and the site of Mission San Cristobál established ca. A.D. 1684. The project is being funded by the Texas Preservation Trust Fund with additional help from the National Science Foundation Subsidy Program for Archaeological Research at the Missouri University Research Reactor Center. Results from these studies are expected to provide new insights concerning acculturation, cultural interactions, and social systems of the La Junta villagers during a period of rapid cultural change amidst Spanish missionization and colonization.
This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
TARL’s map collection is quite extensive. Besides curating maps from present day projects, TARL’s map collection includes those from WPA work around the State of Texas during the 1930s and early 1940s, maps from the archeological work done during the primary Reservoir building era and later, and maps done during the extensive George C. Davis site (41CE19) excavations. Those project maps you may have seen or at least heard about. TARL also has copies of many historic maps as well (many of these maps are white on black copies). Some of the interesting and unique maps in our collection are:
A Geographical Map to Show the Viceroy of New Spain the Results of a Reconnaissance, 1717
A Replica Chart of the Galveston-Houston Area ca. 1836
New Map of the Western Part of the Province of Louisiana, based on the Observations and Reports of Bernard de la Harpe, 1720
A Map of the Red River in Louisiana from the Spanish Camp where the exploring part of the U.S. was met by the Spanish troops to where it enters the Mississippi. Reduced from protracted courses & corrected to the latitude by NS King 1806
Abstract of Title to the Manchester Subdivision: City of Houston and Township of Harrisburg, Harris Co., Tx., Sept 1921
Outline Maps of South America by Alex Krieger, 1961
This map collection is available for both professional and avocational researchers to use. Please let TARL staff know ahead of time, so that we can retrieve the maps you have requested to view.
WPA-Era Maps of the Rob Roy Site, 41TV41
One example of the use of the TARL map collection in current research comes from the work of Dan Prikryl, a well-known Texas archeologist. Dan has been doing research on the Rob Roy site (41TV41), using maps from the 1938-1939 WPA excavations at that site and has prepared this write-up for the Friends of TARL Newsletter:
The map file for the Rob Roy Site, 41TV41, contains the original stratigraphic profile drawings of various parts of the excavation blocks. These profiles are very helpful since the professional archeologists did not provide a thorough discussion of the soil stratigraphy for all the different parts of the site in their field notes summary. The map file also contains the original contour map drawn of the site and surrounding vicinity on a large Mylar sheet. This map is invaluable since the site and surrounding river valley are currently partially inundated by Lake Austin. It has sufficient detail for usage in scientific publications.
Nadya Prociuk is an Affiliated Researcher at TARL. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
For the past several months, TARL’s own Lauren Bussiere and I have been working with the A. E. Anderson Collection, which has been housed at TARL for more than 65 years. A. E. Anderson was a civil engineer based in Brownsville, and over the course of his career he surveyed and collected from around 200 sites in the Rio Grande Delta, both in Texas and Tamaulipas. Anderson’s collection contains over 2, 000 prehistoric artifacts such as shell ornaments and tools, chipped stone tools, bone, groundstone, and ceramics. Thanks to his lifetime of work, Anderson’s collection is the most significant resource currently available for the study of the cultural prehistory of the Rio Grande Delta.
Several researchers have worked with the Anderson Collection over the years, though none have completely inventoried or analyzed the collection up to this point. T. N. Campbell studied the collection when it first arrived at the University of Texas in the 1940s, and Richard MacNeish also used the collection as a starting point for his definitions of the Brownsville and Barril Complexes. In the 1970s Elton Prewitt re-surveyed the Anderson sites located in Cameron County, and compiled an inventory of the artifacts from those sites. Multiple salvage and cultural resource management projects have been undertaken in the Rio Grande Valley that have added to our understanding of the archaeology of the area. Unfortunately, work with Anderson’s collection stalled until the late 1990s when William J. Wagner III completed a Master’s thesis on the ceramics in the collection. With his research Wagner confirmed Gordon Eckholm’s early assessment that a number of the ceramics in the Anderson Collection actually came from the Huastecan region of the Mexican Gulf Coast, suggesting significant long-distance trade ties with that area. Though other research has been done in the Rio Grande Delta area since that time, such as Tiffany Terneny’s Doctoral dissertation analyzing local burials, Wagner’s ceramic analysis was the last substantive work done with the Anderson Collection until now.
Nearly a year ago Lauren approached me about an opportunity to contribute to an upcoming edited volume on trade and cultural interaction in North America, and suggested using the Anderson Collection to look at potential interactions between the Rio Grande Delta area and the Huastecan region. We decided to collaborate on the paper, which has proven to be an unexpectedly rich undertaking. Our goal in writing the paper has been to understand the nature of the interaction between the cultures of the Rio Grande Delta and the Huasteca, including what types of items they may have been trading. We have also sought to provide an example of how cultures which may be considered marginal, such as those of the Rio Grande Delta, can be active participants in wider economies of trade and exchange. An added benefit of our research is also to raise the profile of this archaeological region both within Texas and farther afield, since it is often ignored in favor of other areas. We have submitted the first draft of our chapter to the editors, and publication is expected sometime in 2019. In addition to our book chapter, we will be presenting our research at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Washington D.C. this April, and are looking forward to spreading the word about this fascinating region and getting feedback on our research.
While conducting the research for these projects it became clear to us that though the Anderson Collection is an invaluable resource for the study of the archaeology of the Rio Grande Delta, no comprehensive inventory has been completed since Anderson was in possession of the collection. Such an inventory, with up-to-date classifications, artifact counts, locations, and site information, is a necessary step towards TARL’s goal of making this collection accessible to future researchers. To that end I have been working with the collection since January, and have been fascinated particularly with the abundant use of shell both as ornament and also for tools. It is clear that the people of the Rio Grande Delta were adept at utilizing the abundant marine resources at their disposal to craft a variety of utilitarian and decorative items, and that this shell industry was likely a key element in their interaction with outside groups. It is our hope that through this work the Anderson Collection will become a productive and useful resource for future study of the Rio Grande Delta area, and that others will begin to take a more active interest in pursuing research in this intriguing area.
In order to encourage student researchers and help them with their work, Beta Analytic has opened up the first ever AMS date raffle! Current students and recent grads can enter the free raffle for a chance to win one of five AMS dates (worth $595 each) for free.
We at TARL think this is a great opportunity for students to get some free data, so we encourage anyone with a relevant research project to enter. And if you’re looking for a research project, we can help you find one!
The raffle is open to all students in Europe, Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and South America. Students will need to show proof of enrollment as a graduate or undergrad student for any semester in 2018. You’ll be able to enter through November 30, 2018 and winners will be announced in December.
Christopher J. Jurgens is an Affiliated Researcher with the Texas Archeological Research Lab. An excerpt of this article appeared in the December 2017 TARL Newsletter.
In 2014, Dr. Steve Black requested that I dust off my ‘research hat’ when I retired after a career in state government. As with my own academic beginnings, Steve was a product of the undergraduate Archaeological Studies program at UT-Austin in the 1970s. Dr. Black worked at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) after completing his Ph.D. at Harvard University before becoming a professor in the Anthropology Department at Texas State University.
My doctoral research focused on the Lower Pecos cultural region of the Texas borderlands and was completed in 2005. TARL’s prolific and well-preserved collections from Arenosa Shelter (site 41VV99) formed the basis for my research (Jurgens 2005, 2008). Bone preservation in the region’s dry rockshelters is typically very good, especially for sites with cultural materials in Holocene-age contexts. Remember Ezekiel’s Biblical message about dry bones? As an analogy to this prophet’s ancient words, bone fragments ‘come alive’ to help us understand the prehistoric cultures in this region and, increasingly, in other regions of Texas.
Black’s “come visit” invitation came nearly a decade after completing my Ph.D. at UT-Austin. Dr. Black invited me to join his Ancient Southwest Texas (ASWT) project research team at Texas State University, adding my research specialties of zooarchaeology and bone technology to the team. Since then, I’ve also worked with the Center for Archaeological Studies (CAS) at Texas State University. At CAS, I am conducting similar research for a data recovery project at the Spring Lake site in San Marcos and smaller, historic period sites in San Antonio.
Zooarchaeologists study animal (aka, faunal) remains from archaeological sites using a specifically anthropological standpoint instead of a biological or paleontological perspective (Reitz and Wing 2008). Zooarchaeological faunal studies are also used to investigate site formation, biological processes, and cultural processes that are reflected in the particular collection (or sites) being studied. The anthropological perspective addresses the complex interaction between humans, their environment, and the consequences of that relationship. Animal bone fragments are analyzed to identify the animals and eco-niches represented and any human modification from subsistence or bone technology activities. Analyses begin with sorting of bone fragments into groups, based on size of animal, skeletal element, signs of burning, or other obvious evidence of butchering, skinning, or technological modification (Figure 1).
As a zooarchaeologist, an important question that I must answer during research is how faunal remains enter archaeological contexts. Are the faunal remains there strictly as a result of natural processes? Are the faunal remains spatially associated with cultural materials? Context of faunal remains is the key to understand their role in any site. If the faunal remains are spatially associated with cultural materials, then the zooarchaeologist must ask additional questions. Have the faunal remains been modified by cultural behaviors processes (skinning, butchering, tool manufacture or use, bone breakage for marrow removal or bone grease production, etc.)? If so, then the cultural filter has played a role in how the faunal materials were placed in the site. The bone fragments shown in Figure 1 are from an extinct bison recovered during 2016 excavations at Eagle Cave (41VV167) by Texas State University (Castañeda, et al. 2016). They reveal a late Paleoindian cultural filter through remnant evidence of intensive butchering. The bison’s mandible had many cut marks resulting from muscles being cut to allow the tongue to be removed (Figure 2). Ethnographic analogy from historic period bison hunters in the North American Great Plains mirrors this prehistoric evidence—the tongue was a prized portion of meat. For thorough discussion of this topic and related literature, see Jurgens (2005, Chapter 3).
One reason zooarchaeological studies are important in archaeological projects is that they help us understand past environments. Some animals only thrive in certain ecological conditions, such as upland grasslands or streamside woodlands. Groups of animal bones from the same archaeological context allow archaeologists to infer about paleo-environmental conditions during the time period when those deposits were formed. For example, let’s consider the presence of both jackrabbits and swamp rabbits in the same strata in archaeological sites along the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau. These fragments point to prey being targeted in both dry and moist environmental niches by prehistoric hunters and gatherers.
Let’s go back to the saga of my post-retirement research. Following Steve Black’s invitation, I joined the ASWT project’s collaborative team. The ASWT project team is researching sites in Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry in the western Lower Pecos cultural region. Incorporating the Eagle Nest Canyon data sets from the Eagle Cave, Skiles Shelter, and Kelley Cave collections allows them to be compared with that from Arenosa Shelter. Eagle Nest Canyon joins the Rio Grande about 15 miles west of Arenosa Shelter’s location on the Pecos River near its confluence with the Rio Grande. The Ancient Southwest Texas Project study allows me to link my Arenosa Shelter research to the ongoing Eagle Nest Canyon efforts. The linkage expands our understanding of life-ways in the western Lower Pecos cultural region and elsewhere in Texas.
Analytical comparisons between Arenosa Shelter and the Eagle Nest Canyon sites have been focusing on Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric bone technology and subsistence economies. Most Eagle Nest Canyon sites lack the deeply stratified deposits present in Arenosa Shelter. In my view, this distinction is moot. As shown by my earlier Arenosa Shelter study, sixty per cent of faunal materials and bone artifacts were found in upper deposits (strata 4 – 9) with a Terminal Late Archaic context dating between about 2,300 and 1,300 years ago. Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric faunal materials had good to excellent bone preservation, as did those in Paleoindian deposits. Arenosa Shelter’s Middle and Early Archaic deposits (strata 12 – 36) were heavily damaged by high energy Pecos River flooding. Most of the bone fragments that these deposits may have originally contained were removed, especially those from smaller animals. Remaining bone in these strata also quite often has been redeposited in secondary context.
Faunal analysis utilizes techniques I’ve applied over the past 20 years. Using standard zooarchaeological procedures, skeletal materials from reference specimens of fish, birds, and mammals were used to identify the archaeological faunal material, assigning it to the most appropriate taxonomic group. Some of the reference specimens were loaned from the UT-Austin Jackson School of Geoscience’s Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory. Assignment of bone fragments to the most appropriate taxonomic group requires an understanding of bone structure and skeletal anatomy of all potential animal groups, from fish and reptiles to birds and mammals. Some of the bones are easy to identify, based on their structure and morphology. Distinctive features allow identification of bone fragments to specific animal form and portion of skeletal element. For example, the archaeological and reference specimen bones in Figure 3 are both identifiable as feet bones from species in the rabbit family.
Microscopic examination of bone fragments is used to verify taxonomic and skeletal element assignment, especially for smaller animals. It is also used to search for cultural modifications that may be present on fragments.
Microscopic examination uses a 10x-25x binocular microscope (Figure 4). Specialized lighting includes an overhead general light and a low sidelight low that increases contrast (Figure 5). The sidelight reveals changes to the bone surface. Butchering damage and technological modifications made during tool or ornament manufacture and use each leave distinctive traces on the surface of bone. The human modification may be the form of cut and chop marks, scrape marks, grinding, surface polish, and microscopic striations from use-wear. Carnivore damage and root-etching also modify the bone surface.
The fauna from Eagle Nest Canyon sites parallel those from Arenosa Shelter. They appear to contain very similar faunal remains, including those of small to large mammals, fish, birds, turtles, and other reptiles. Bone preservation is variable in both locales, dependent on site formation processes and post-deposition effects of moisture on bone within the strata. The moisture present is from groundwater exiting from bedrock seeps or is from rainwater funneled from the canyon rims above the sites.
Many bone fragments showed signs of butchering or cooking by the site’s inhabitants. Skinning and butchering leave distinctive cutmarks, as does dynamic bone breakage to remove marrow. The bone flake from the Spring Lake site in Central Texas is a good example of a result from cultural activities to harvest bone marrow during butchering (Figure 6). Similar bone flakes are found in the Lower Pecos cultural region and elsewhere in Texas.
Some of the faunal remains and bone artifacts from the Eagle Nest Canyon sites have been burned, mirroring those in Arenosa Shelter. Two patterns of burning are evident—roasting and disposal. Direct heat cooking, such as grilling or roasting, leaves distinctive discoloration of bone fragments where bone was not covered by meat during cooking. The disposal pattern of burning is hypothesized to represent burning of food remains or incorporation of remnant bone into earth oven fill. Sometimes, discard pattern bone has been burned so intensely that most organic matter is removed from the bone. Bones incinerated by heat over 850o F caused this condition termed calcination. Similar patterns are being documented in analysis of the fauna from the Spring Lake site.
The Eagle Nest Canyon/Arenosa Shelter comparisons have allowed me a clearer understanding of the western Lower Pecos cultural region. The concurrent analysis of the Spring Lake faunal material is extending that knowledge to the eastern edge of the Edwards Plateau. My research has documented 1) eco-niches targeted by the prehistoric inhabitants, 2) specific subsistence behaviors (e.g. filleting of fish, specific cuts to overcome defensive pectoral fin spines in catfish, and specialized skinning of mammalian carnivores), and 3) manufacturing and use of tools or ornaments from boney subsistence remnants.
A wide variety of formal bone tool and ornament types have been recorded, as have the manufacturing processes for them. Evidence of manufacturing processes included scrape marks made to remove the periosteum layer from the bone surface; distinctive grooves cut to facilitate controlled snapping of the bone into segments; scraping and grinding to shape tool or bead preforms; and wear left by contact with plant materials, hides, or other substances during use.
Most formal tools were made from deer lower leg bones (Figures 7-9). Other skeletal elements of deer were also used to manufacture formal tools, such as the ulna or antler times (Figure 10). In addition, bones of smaller mammals formed the raw material for tool manufacture, as did the pectoral fin spines of catfish (Figure 11). Informal expediency tools are rare, but manufactured from large mammal long bones during butchering and retain use-wear from meat, sinew, or hide (Figures 12 and 13).
In my research, I have adopted a bone tool typology based on tool morphology, supplemented with use-wear analyses to document the actual function. Many bone tools from the Lower Pecos cultural region have been mistermed “awls” in the literature, implying function based on the tool form. The morphology of these tool’s cross-section is generally flat and ovoid. The main differences are in the tip (distal) section. Measurements of width and thickness at and near the tip are used to assign the tools into types. Use-wear analysis is then conducted to determine actual function. Use-wear studies revealed that those tools were used by prehistoric inhabitants to extract other resources from the environment or to manipulate them. Hides, desert succulent fibers, meat, wood—wear from all of these were revealed on tools or tool fragments through microscopic examination.
Beads were manufactured from bird or small-medium mammal long bones, with hawk and rabbits being the most common source animals (Figure 14). A Eureka! moment in my research came when I recognized that long bone ends from these animals retained evidence of being cut off during bead manufacture. Linking bead cross-section to morphology of the cut-off bone ends allowed identification of species that were the most common source animals (Figure 15).
During the on-going Spring Lake Site faunal analysis, I’ve noticed many parallels to the Lower Pecos study results, especially in the presence of bone technology remnants. The Spring Lake site shows that the same processes used to make the tools and ornaments in the Lower Pecos were in use in Central Texas by the Early Archaic.
One problem that I’ve come to face in the Spring Lake site study is that bone tool or ornament fragments, and evidence for their manufacture, have rarely been recognized or documented in Central Texas. Part of that scarcity is due to the differences in site types between the Lower Pecos and Central Texas. Fewer dry rockshelters are present in Central Texas. Bone preservation in the clay soils of Central Texas is another problem. Mechanical crushing is caused by movement in the region’s expansive clay soils. Overall bone fragment size of archaeological faunal remains in Central Texas is much smaller than in the Lower Pecos.
A separate problem is the lack of trained zooarchaeological specialists. This problem can be addressed by appropriate interdisciplinary education in university archaeological programs. I was fortunate during my undergraduate and graduate education to be trained by paleontologists and zooarchaeologists. These dedicated educators continue to mentor me even near the end of their careers or in retirement. Following their examples, I am mentoring the current generation of students. Training in zooarchaeological methods is no different than training in lithic or ceramic analytical methods. Unless students are taught the methods, how can they identify animals represented in archaeological sites, much less recognize the signals of bone technology amongst the subsistence debris?
Sites such as Arenosa Shelter, the Eagle Nest Canyon sites, and the Spring Lake site help us open doors onto the past. Once we throw those doors open, we can begin to understand how prevalent and widespread cultural processes, such as bone technology, were in prehistory across Texas.
Ezekiel’s right: we archaeologists must open our eyes and minds to the dry bones that help us understand the remnants of prehistoric cultures that surround us.
Castañeda, Amanda M., Christopher Jurgens, Charles W. Koenig, Stephen L. Black, J. Kevin Hanselka, and Haley Rush
2016 “Multidisciplinary Investigations of a Paleoindian Bison Butchery Event in Eagle Cave.” Paper presented at the 87th Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting. Nacogdoches, Texas.
2008 “The Fish Fauna from Arenosa Shelter (41VV99), Lower Pecos Cultural Region, Texas.” In: Joaquín Arroyo-Cabrales and Eileen Johnson, Guest Editors, Contributions to Latin American Zooarchaeology in Honour of Oscar J. Polaco, Fryxell Award Recipient for Interdisciplinary Research. Quaternary International 185:26-33.
Reitz, Elizabeth J. and Elizabeth S. Wing
2008 Zooarchaeology (Second Edition). Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.