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The Prehistory Research Project is moving (back) to TARL

Nancy Velchoff and Thomas J. Williams

 

We are delighted to announce that The Prehistory Research Project (formerly known as The Gault Project) will be returning to its roots: Starting early summer 2019 the PRP staff will move the project from its current home at Texas State University in San Marcos to Building 5C at TARL.

Some of you (indeed many of you) are long-familiar with the old Gault Project but for those who might not be, it was a research project that was formed under the auspices of the TARL family and operated out of TARL Building 5A from 1999 to 2009. The Gault Project was created to help manage cultural materials that were being excavated from the Gault Archaeological Site which is located 40 miles north of Austin. The Prehistory Research Project (PRP) expanded its research from the Gault Project to dedicate research efforts beyond the Gault Site to exploring the early human occupations of the Americas.

Volunteers and professional Archaeologists hard at work in Area 15 of the Gault Site

Background in Brief

The Gault Archaeological Site is named for the original owner, Henry Gault whose farm had a colorful past; attracting unwanted collectors, as well as professional and avocational archaeologists for over a century. Thankfully, science and education prevailed and helped stop the damage being done from pay-to-dig operations by the late 1990s.  Archaeologists were eventually allowed unrestricted access to the property to conduct excavations when the owners, Ricky and Howard Lindsey granted a 3-year access – 1999 to 2002 – for Dr. Mike Collins to investigate the site. These excavations revealed a prolific, multi-component, well-stratified site representing almost every stone-age culture known in Central Texas.

As is often the case when conducting large-scale archaeological excavations (and as many an avocational and professional can attest), it was the final few days of that 3-year excavation lease that last minute testing revealed artifacts well-below the known Clovis zone. These findings were convincing evidence of older occupations at the site and led to renewed negotiations with the landowners for several years. In early 2007 Gault was purchased by Dr. Collins and the deed ownership donated to The Archaeological Conservancy.

Excavations resumed by 2007, however in the summer of 2009, a generous invitation to move the project to San Marcos from the Anthropology Department at Texas State University was accepted by Dr. Collins and Dr. Clark Wernecke. The relocation of such a high-profile group of researchers would prove beneficial in Texas State’s quest for recognition as an emerging research institution.  It was clear that the Gault Site had mounting evidence that would eventually re-write prehistory of the earliest peoples in the Americas. Thus, The Gault Project grew and expanded to become The Prehistory Research Project.

Artifacts from the deepest stratigraphic levels at the Gault Site, named the Gault Assemblage. These artifacts are dated to between 16,000 and 21,000 years old.

Today, the PRP is an active, vibrant project that supports research across the globe with a special interest in all early archaeological evidence, from North, Central, and South America, where sites much older than 13,500 years ago are being discovered or rediscovered on a consistent basis.

A tour group from the Society for American Archaeology explore the Gault Site with Dr. Michael Collins

Moving to TARL

As of August 31, 2019, our 10-year arrangement with Texas State University will end on a high note as some of our biggest and most prominent accomplishments have occurred under the auspices of Texas State University. But we are more than ready to move back home to TARL. We will be bringing with us a dedicated team of researchers and, in conjunction with the Gault School of Archaeological Research (GSAR).

Our move to TARL is very much a homecoming for the Gault Archaeological Site and the Prehistory Research Project.  We are thrilled to re-unite with our colleagues and begin a new collaborative partnership with the great folks at TARL and the University of Texas at Austin that we believe will create exciting new opportunities and make archaeology accessible to all!

In the meantime, look for additional details as we get closer to making this endeavor happen, and would like to extend our thanks and gratitude to Texas State University for hosting the project over the past decade and thank all of our friends, colleagues, volunteers, and students who have supported us throughout our time there.

Heartfelt Gratitude and Thanks to TARL for a much-anticipated homecoming!

Sincerely

The Staff of the Prehistory Research Project

Mike Collins

Clark Wernecke

Nancy Velchoff

Sergio Ayala

Tom Williams

Jennifer Gandy

Robert Lassen

Mike Quigg

Alan Slade

 

 

An Update on Research at Spirit Eye Cave

 

By Bryon Schroeder

A recent collaboration between the Center for Big Bend Studies of Sul Ross State University and the Texas Archeological
Research Lab focuses on advancing the analysis of both plant and human DNA at Spirit Eye Cave. The impetus for the maize
research follows from the results of radiocarbon dated cobs that confirm the presence of Late Archaic maize at the cave.
Housed at TARL are additional corncobs from a private collection that was recovered in the late 1990s from a collector in
California. The morphology of the cobs in this collection are consistent with older examples from southern New Mexico
and it is possible they are older than previously dated examples. In addition to dating the specimens housed at TARL, BioArch
at the University of York is sequencing the DNA so we can understand the phylogenetic history of this maize in regards to
previously sequenced specimens from the American Southwest and Mexico.

This is important because the role of maize in Late Archaic groups in the eastern Trans-Pecos is assumed to be minimal.
As Mallouf (2005:239) suggests “the use of cultigen was cursory at best, possibly serving only as a dietary supplement, and
may have been restricted to occasional, relatively haphazard and experimental plantings in suitable soils near springs or along
segments of larger drainages …” However isotopic analysis from several eastern Trans-Pecos burials suggests opposite trophic
patterns. As a general statement Piehl (2009:81) states, the Late Archaic individuals look, “similar to incipient agriculturalists in
the Jornada-Mogollon region” whereas the Late Prehistoric individuals, some presumed to be agriculturalists, look like Archaic
populations, “outside of the eastern Trans-Pecos or Lower Pecos regions, rather than incipient agriculturalists or those relying
on maize agriculture.” Although Piehl’s results were limited, they indicate maize may have had a longer and more significant role
in the region than was previously assumed.

Sampled Cob from Spirit Eye Cave

In addition to the maize research, we extracted samples to sequence the DNA from an individual that was part of the Spirit Eye
Cave collection recovered in California. Much like the maize research, the combination of mtDNA and radiocarbon data will help
us understand the individual’s phylogenetic history and provide a step forward for future collaboration for both descendant
communities and researchers grappling with heavily looted sheltered sites in Texas.

Top Ten Creepy Archaeological Discoveries This Year

1. The Black Sarcophagus

The discovery of a massive, 2000-year-old sealed black granite sarcophagus in Alexandria, Egypt in July 2018 prompted speculation that opening it would unleash a world-ending curse. When opened, the sarcophagus was found to contain only the remains of three Egyptian army officers and a reddish-brown sewage liquid, spawning the #sarcophagusjuice meme.

2. The Knife-Armed Man

While excavating a 1200- to 1400-year-old necropolis in northern Italy, archaeologists found the remains of a man with a knife blade prosthetic arm. Analysis of the man’s bones revealed that his arm had been removed through blunt-force trauma below the elbow, and that he lived for some time afterward with the knife blade prosthesis in place of a hand.

3. The Elder Cheese

While the world was still mourning over not being allowed to drink the sarcophagus juice, archaeologists in Saqqara, Egypt uncovered another ancient (and equally inedible) find: the world’s oldest known solid cheese. Protein analysis showed that the 3,300-year-old powdery white substance was likely a mixture of cow and either goat or sheep milk, made into a cheese, which was left in the tomb of an official who served the pharaoh. Scientists warned that the cheese might actually be “cursed” with live bacteria that could sicken anyone who dared to taste it.

 

4. Ancient Sites Appearing in the Back Yard

Drought and a massive heatwave across the UK revealed the presence of hundreds–if not thousands–of previously unknown archaeological sites, ranging from neolithic hamlets to massive henges and WWII landscape modifications. These are no crop circles: because disturbed sections of the landscape hold more water than undisturbed soil, the differential drying patterns have revealed the exact locations of buried structures.

 

5. Spiral Shaped Mass Burial

Archaeologists working at Tlalpan, just south of Mexico City, uncovered the remains of ten individuals arranged in a spiral shape in a mass grave. The burial, which dates to the Preclassic period, includes adults, juveniles, and an infant, who were all buried in a single event and left with many grave goods. 

 

6. A Creepy Tiny Hand

At the Roman fort of Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall in England, archaeologists found a creepy, lifelike, miniature bronze hand. The hand may be associated with the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus, a mystery cult whose practices were shrouded in secrecy, which was very popular in the Roman army of the early 3rd century CE. The hand was likely left as an offering after a major invasion of Scotland in which a huge number of people may have been killed.

 

7. The Lucky Few Deceased

Another mass grave was uncovered in late 2017 on Murder Island off the western coast of Australia. This grave contained the remains of five individuals, survivors of the wreck of a merchant ship called the Batavia, which sank nearby in 1629. Although these five individuals are believed to have died of dehydration shortly after the shipwreck, more than 100 survivors were brutally murdered by mutineers in the following months.

 

8. The Most Unlucky Man

At Pompeii, the site of Mt. Vesuvius’ disastrous eruption that killed the entire town in 79 CE, a man was found who was thought to have been crushed to death by a massive falling stone. Although archaeologists later found that the man’s head and upper torso were intact, they initially hypothesized that the rock had landed on him as he attempted to flee, hindered by an infection in his leg.

 

9. The Underground Labyrinth of Death

Using tiny remote-operated robots, archaeologists working at Chavin de Huantar in Peru have discovered a network of 35 interlocking underground tunnels, which contained the remains of at least three individuals that may have been sacrificed in “rituals [involving] drugs, noise and light manipulation.”

 

10. Pits Full of Heads

Archaeologists working along the Great Wall of China published new findings that describe a previously largely unknown early stratified society, the Shimao polity. Along with thousands of jade items, researchers discovered that human sacrifice was an important feature of this society. At least six pits filled with the decapitated heads of young women were excavated at the site.

 

Runners-up:

  • The Lothagam North Pillar Site in Kenya was found to be the oldest and largest cemetery site in eastern Africa, with more than 580 individuals interred over the course of 450 to 900 years.  This awesome site isn’t really creepy… with the exception of a burial headdress made of more than 400 gerbil teeth.
  • Record-setting drought and low water levels along the Elbe river in Europe revealed many “hunger stones” along the river banks–rocks carved with laments and warnings from prior periods of drought and famine with carved dates as early as 1417. One stone reads, “if you see me, weep.”

Southwest Texas Burials at 2018 AAPA Meetings by Dr. Charles E. Hilton

Dr. Charles E. Hilton is an Affiliated Researcher with the Texas Archeological Research Lab. This article is part of the December 2017 TARL Newsletter. 


Dr. Charles E. Hilton will be presenting a poster detailing several  paleopathological analyses of the Lower Pecos human skeletal remains of southwest Texas, a project on which he collaborated with the late Dr. Marsha D. Ogilvie, at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists to be held in Austin, Texas. This presentation will describe and discuss severe arthropathies, specifically joint fusions in the lower limbs, in an elderly adult male from the Lower Pecos. The talk will also contextualize the implications for reduced mobility for an individual who lived within a hunting and gathering community. The AAPA meetings are scheduled for 10-14 April 2018 in Austin and are hosted by the University of Texas at Austin.

Drs. Hilton and Ogilvie also recently submitted a manuscript highlighting their bioarchaeological analyses of a large number of Lower Pecos human skeletal remains as a chapter inclusion into Ann Stodder’s Bioarchaeology of the Southwest volume to be published by the University Press of Florida.

Documentation of Caddo Ceramic Vessels Returned from the Arizona State Museum, by Timothy K. Perttula

Timothy K. Perttula is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article was part of the September 2017 TARL newsletter. 


In the summer of 2017, 21 ancestral Caddo ceramic vessels held since 1933 by the Gila Pueblo Museum and then by the Arizona State Museum were returned to the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin (TARL). These vessels had not been properly or fully studied and documented when the University of Texas exchanged these vessels, so the purpose in documenting these vessels now is primarily to determine the stylistic (i.e., decorative methods, motifs, and decorative elements) and technological (i.e., vessel form, temper, and vessel size) character of the vessels that are in the collection, and assessing their cultural relationships and stylistic associations, along with their likely age. In 1933, little was known about the cultural and temporal associations of ancestral Caddo ceramic vessels from East Texas, but that has changed considerably since that time (e.g., Perttula 2013).

Ceramic Vessel Exchange

Harold Gladwin of the Gila Pueblo Museum (GPM) in Globe, Arizona, first proposed to The University of Texas (UT) an exchange of ceramic materials in November 1931 with Dr. J. E. Pearce of UT. Pearce was not prepared to exchange any ceramic vessels or sherd collections then because the ceramic materials in his possession had not been studied because they had only recently been recovered from excavations at East Texas Caddo sites.

However, by November 1933, Pearce felt an exchange of Southwestern vessels with ancestral Caddo vessels between the GPM and UT was worth doing, and 20 Caddo vessels from eight East Texas sites were selected by E. B. Sayles of the GPM. After Pearce obtained permission from UT President H. Y. Benedict and the Board of Regents, the vessels were shipped to the GPM. The eight ancestral Caddo sites that had vessels selected for the exchange included the Richard Patton Farm (41AN26, 2 vessels); Goode Hunt Farm (41CS23, 2 vessels); Mrs. H. L. Culpepper Farm (41HP1, 1 vessel); H. R. Taylor (41HS3, 7 vessels); T. M. Sanders Farm (41LR2, 2 vessels); Hooper Glover Farm (41MX4, 1 vessel); Russell Bros. Farm (41TT7, 1 vessel); and the J. M. Riley Farm (41UR2, 4 vessels). The vessels remained in Arizona museums until the summer of 2017.

Figure 1. Maxey Noded Redware bottle from the T.M. Sanders site (41LR2).

The exchanged vessels from the T. M. Sanders site are from burial features in a Middle Caddo period (ca. A.D. 1200-1400) Sanders phase mound on the Red River. They include a Maxey Noded Redware bottle (Figure 1) and an East Incised bowl.

The fine ware and utility ware vessels from the Culpepper Farm, H. R. Taylor, Hooper Glover, Russell Brothers, and J. M. Riley sites are from Late Caddo period Titus phase sites (dating broadly from ca. A.D. 1430-1680) in the Big Cypress and Sulphur River basins in East Texas. The fine ware vessels include Ripley Engraved (Figure 2) and Taylor Engraved carinated bowls, a Wilder Engraved, var. Wilder
bottle, a Bailey Engraved olla, a red-slipped bowl, and Ripley Engraved compound bowls, while the utility wares are Bullard Brushed, Harleton Appliqued (Figure 3), and Karnack Brushed-Incised jars.

Figure 2. Ripley Engraved, var. McKinney carinated bowl from the H.R. Taylor site (41HS3).
Figure 3. Harleton Appliqued jar from the H.R. Taylor site (41HS3).

Finally, the ceramic vessels from the Richard Patton and Goode Hunt sites are from late 17th to early 18th century Historic Caddo burial features in the upper Neches River and Big Cypress Creek drainage basins, respectively. These burial features were in cemeteries created and used by Hasinai and Nasoni Caddo peoples. The historic Caddo ceramics from the Richard Patton site include two different varieties of Patton Engraved (Figure 4), while both vessels from the Goode Hunt site are Simms Engraved carinated bowls (Figure 5).

Figure 4. Patton Engraved, var. Freeman jar from the Richard Patton site (41AN26).
Figure 5. Simms Engraved carinated bowl from the Goode Hunt site (41CS23).

Thanks to Lauren Bussiere and Marybeth Tomka at TARL for facilitating access to the study of these vessels, and for providing photographs of the vessels taken by the Arizona State Museum. Kevin Stingley kindly assisted with the vessel documentation. All photos courtesy Arizona State Museum.


References Cited:

Perttula, T. K.
2013 Caddo Ceramics in East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 84:181-212.

Microphotographs for Research in Ceramic Petrography, by David Glen Robinson

Dr. David Robinson is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of TARL’s September 2017 newsletter.


Work at TARL’s microscopy lab in 2017 has focused on Caddo sites, particularly the George C. Davis site (41CE19). Imagery in
the microscope has been captured for sharing with scholars with an interest in ceramics and Caddo culture. Digital
photography with a dedicated computer setup (although still a part of the TARL-UT network) makes capturing, sharing, and
distributing the imagery easy. The hard part is still identifying unknown minerals in thin section and centering them in front
of the camera’s shutter.

The assistance of Marilyn Shoberg in operating the digital system is gratefully acknowledged.

All thin section images in this article are from the George C. Davis Site (41CE19).

 

Feldspar particle in Paste Group E. Feldspar is a telltale sign of nonlocal wares at the George C. Davis site.


Paste Group C. This paste group is an unusual hematite-tempered group. The small brown (medium silt-sized) particles may be hematite. The actual hematite temper particles are coarse sand-sized (not visible in this view).


Grog temper particle. Note color difference, high angularity, and much smaller interior particles in the grog particle.


Large mass of bone tempering. Bone material almost fills the image. Bone particles may take almost any shape.


Ilmenite is titanium oxide; it appears as a fractured mass with white speckles, which are small masses of elemental titanium. It could
well be a specific telltale sign in Caddo country, but research has not yet determined this.


Bug eggs in blue void. Invertebrates lay eggs in ceramic voids. Sometimes they are preserved by carbonization in the ceramic firing. Species unknown.


Void with woody burnout. Some sections from George C. Davis have up to 2.5% of such voids. Note the black interior particle and jagged
or feathery black interior rim of the void. The void was originally filled with a woody organic material, and firing burned out all
the material around the interior rim.


Hex void. Some sections from George C. Davis have numerous voids of irregular hexagonal shapes. Many are more elongated than this one. Some interpretations speculate that these are the shapes left by seeds being added to the ceramic paste. The material burns out, leaving the hexagonal shape. Black masses inside the void may be remnant material.

Special thanks to the Texas Historical Commission for their funding of this project, and to Tim Perttula (PI).

An Examination of Toyah Social Complexity, by Eric Schroeder

Eric Schroeder is a UT graduate student and archeological researcher. This article appeared in the September 2017 TARL newsletter.


One aspect of my current research is examining the ethnohistoric and archeological evidence for social complexity during the Toyah interval. Inspired by the ethnohistoric accounts of native Jumano leaders including Juan Sabeata, Tuerto, and the Catqueza leader Don Nicholas, where these special status individuals are portrayed as organizers of large Native coalitions, as well as being widely traveled diplomats and traders, I am looking into the Toyah material record for evidence of socially complex phenomena such as ceremony, ritual, violence, exchange, and aspects of labor organization.

Figure 1. The travels of Juan Sabeata (ca. 1683 to 1692).

In addition to synthesizing the available mortuary data in an attempt to identify regional patterns related to social inequality, I am particularly interested in sites that contain evidence of communal activities such as organized hunting, feasting, and commodity production. Items associated with ritual and ceremonial significance such as rock art, large food processing features, and smoking pipes play a large part in my analysis of the intersite data, as well as evidence of long-distance exchange and craft production. This investigation into craft production has directed me toward a study of Toyah blade and ceramic technologies. In this regard, I am investigating whether blade technology functioned as an efficient means of mass-producing a stone tool kit focused around the production of hide commodities.

In reference to ceramic technology, I hope to provide information on the variability expressed among Classic Toyah pottery to evaluate whether there existed a standardized production process that may have been organized and controlled under a certain set of cultural/ideological parameters. The intended outcome of this study is to systematically identify present data gaps and future research trajectories under a more humanistic model, one that goes beyond purely environmental determinants and has the power to add new understanding into the origin and spread of the Toyah cultural phenomenon.

Figure 2. The Bridwell Site blade cache.

Texas Archeology Month Fair 2017

It’s that time again… the Texas Archeology Month Fair is coming up! TARL is teaming up with the Texas Historical Commission and other local agencies to provide a fun day of hands-on educational activities, presentations, and exhibits for kids, older students, and the general public. Our goal is to increase public awareness of the fact that archaeology is happening around us all the time, and to promote archaeology as an important part of environmental conservation and scientific research.

We are looking for professional and avocational archaeologists and general volunteers to host activity tables and displays, assist other presenters, and help with setting up the Fair. We hope to have upwards of 20 presenter booths and bring in more than 200 visitors. The Fair is free and open to everyone.

Please contact TARL by commenting below or via email at FriendsofTARL@utexas.edu to volunteer. We hope you’ll join us!

Here are some great photos from last year’s event. Thanks again to everyone who helped out in 2016!

Hererra Gate Goes Out for Conservation

Earlier this month, TARL bid farewell to the Hererra Gate, which had been stored in our facility while awaiting conservation work. This massive hardwood gate came to TARL after research by Kay Hindes in the 1990s. The gate is now being stabilized and then hopefully it will be on permanent exhibit alongside its other half at the Texas State History Museum. The 300-year-old wooden gate sat on a nearby ranch for many years after being salvaged from an old Texas
mission. Family legend says that mission was the one and only Alamo in San Antonio! Many thanks to the owners, Evie Patton and the Hererra family.

The Hererra Gate goes out for conservation work. The conservator is local to the Austin area, so it was a short trip!
The Hererra Gate in its custom storage crate.

Paleoindian Mobility at Blackwater Draw, By Tawnya Waggle

Tawnya Waggle is a visiting researcher from Eastern New Mexico State University. This article is part of TARL’s December 2016 newsletter. 


I am a graduate student at Eastern New Mexico University studying collections from the Blackwater Draw Site excavated by the Texas Memorial Museum. I recently visited TARL to collect lithic attribute data in order to understand the mobility of Folsom and Late Paleoindian occupations represented at the Blackwater Draw Site. I successfully collected metric and qualitative data, and took photographs of the artifacts critical to my research. Thanks to the generous support of TARL, I was granted access to the collections, a research space, and a photo set-up area. The collected data will be analyzed to compare the mobility of the Folsom and Late Paleoindian occupations. I hope to contribute to the existing knowledge of Paleoindian mobility on the Southern Plains with the completion of my research.

Artifact 937-32 is a projectile point found during the Texas Memorial Museum excavations at the Blackwater Draw site in New Mexico. This Late Paleoindian projectile point is made of grey chert and was found in the upper diatomaceous earth strata.
Artifact 937-32 is a projectile point found during the Texas Memorial Museum excavations at the Blackwater Draw site in New Mexico. This Late Paleoindian projectile point is made of grey chert and was found in the upper diatomaceous earth strata.