Current Research on Painted Pebble Styles

Elton R. Prewitt

Texas Archeological Research Laboratory

The University of Texas at Austin

Archeologists have known of the painted pebbles in southwest Texas for about 100 years. Extensive excavation of dry rockshelters in the eastern and central Trans-Pecos region began in the 1920s. Initial digging by local collectors was followed in the 1930s by over half-dozen institutions that mounted multiple museum-stuffing expeditions.

Davenport and Chelf (1941) compiled 281 pebble designs observed in various collections from Val Verde county made during the 1920s and 1930s. The Amistad Reservoir salvage program carried out by UT Austin’s Texas Archeological Salvage Project (TASP) from 1958 to 1969 provided numerous additional samples that were recovered from various rockshelters in the Lower Pecos River portion of the eastern Trans-Pecos. As a result, the greatest number of known painted pebbles are from Val Verde county.

UT Austin student and TASP employee Mark Parsons (1967) studied painted pebbles intensively during the early 1960s. His full research paper, in which he worked with a sample of roughly 400 specimens (interpolated from his 1967 references), was never published, but a summary of it appeared later (Parsons 1986). Parsons’ work provides a foundation for continuing study of these fascinating artifacts. He demonstrated that the narrow end of most pebbles is the top portion of the design, but importantly he also defined a Core Motif comprised of 3 elements, and he described six proposed styles of pebbles.

The three elements of the Core Motif defined by Parsons include a Bisecting Element consisting of one or more vertical lines, a Central Element that is horizontal and located toward the lower portion of the pebble, and Flanking Elements positioned on either side of the bisecting element (Fig. 1). Each of these elements may comprise a variety of motifs.

Figure 1: Core Motif showing a) Bisecting Element; b) Central Element; c) Flanking Element (SID00411).-

The six painted pebble styles proposed by Parsons are currently being reviewed as part of a long-term study initiated by Shumla in 2009. The research team that includes Dr. Jean Clottes (Foix, France), Dr. Carolyn E. Boyd (Texas State University), and Elton R. Prewitt (TARL) currently works with a sample of roughly 750 painted pebbles. Although modifications to Parsons’ styles appear warranted, the basic structure he presented is sound and requires tweaking only in light of specimens excavated subsequent to his study.

Mock (1987, 2011, 2012, 2013) employs a different method of grouping painted pebbles based upon individual motifs rather than overall style. Her work has contributed significantly to possible pebble motif interpretations. However, we choose to follow the earlier work by Parsons that was based upon analysis techniques used in art history studies.

Pebbles may be painted in red, black or both, and sometimes yellow or white may be observed. Color is not used as a factor in the present examination of style. The illustrations that follow are enhanced either by pencil shading or digital overlay in order to make the sometimes very dim designs visible. Specimens are identified by their Shumla identification number (SID).

Parsons’ Style 1 exhibits geometric patterns. The Bisecting Element generally is three vertical lines while the Central Element has concentric circles and the Flanking Elements contain “X”s or diagonal lines.  Designs often wrap around the lateral edges and most frequently are executed by fine lines. However, some pebbles of this style are executed by broader lines, prompting a suggestion that two substyles might be defined (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Style 1, Early Geometrics; a) Style 1A (SID00775); b) Style 1B (SID00715).

In Parsons’ Style 2 the Bisecting Element usually is three lines, but the Central Element may be rectangular or circular with linear or spatulate forms radiating from it. The Flanking Elements include horizontal crescent lines or “flags.” While not overtly so, this style has elements of anthropomorphic representation. The Central Element circle is very suggestive of female genitalia. Two substyles are distinguished, the first of which includes horizontal crescents as originally defined by Parsons. The second includes straight lines (flags) that may be horizontal or diagonal and usually intersect a vertical line (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Style 2, Flag Design showing obverse and reverse patterns; a) Style 2A (SID00154); b) Style 2B (SID00155).

Style 3 pebbles are overtly anthropomorphic with female genitalia apparent in the Central Element. The key features that identify this style are vertically-oriented chevrons positioned to suggest eyes in the Flanking Elements. Sometimes there are multiple chevrons, and some may be joined into a heart shape (Fig. 4).

Figure 4: Style 3, Chevron Eyes oriented vertically; a) SID00148; b) SID00500.

Parsons’ Style 4 is problematical. He defined this style based upon only three specimens, all of which are anthropomorphic exhibiting eyes similar to Style 5. The key motif he proposed is a “V” shape suggestive of projectiles. While this motif appears on several pebbles other than the original three, none of them are anthropomorphic with identifiable eyes. Tentatively, Style 4 may be redefined to include pebbles that have anthropomorphic qualities, especially female genitalia in the Central Element, but that lack eye representations in the Flanking Elements. The three pebbles Parsons used to define this style are now included in Style 5. Five substyles of Style 4 may be recognized (Fig. 5).  In Style 4A the Bisecting Element includes a vee shape or a zigzag. Style 4B has anthropomorphic elements but no eyes while Style 4C is defined by fine-line application and the Central Element exhibits open circle or brackets. Style 4D comprises most examples not assignable to Styles 4A, 4B or 4C. Style 4E includes examples where apparent hair (or head) only is depicted either in red or black monochrome.

Figure 5: Style 4, Anthropomorphic, lacking eyes; a) Style 4A (SID00630); b) Style 4B (SID00626); c) Style 4C (SID00181); d) Style 4D (SID00611); e) Style 4E (SID00256).

Parsons’ Style 5 includes clearly anthropomorphic representations that he divided into two substyles. However, considering the observable variation in the currently available examples it appears four substyles might be appropriate for this group. Basic to the style is the presence of open brackets or circles in the Central Element and depictions of eyes in the upper Flanking Elements (Style 5A). Some examples exhibit downward diagonal lines or bands that converge toward the open brackets or circles (Style 5B). Others appear to have subtle shading on the upper portions of the pebbles suggestive of hair or possibly skull caps (Style 5C). Some anthropomorphic pebbles (Style 5D) are simply not assignable to a specific substyle (Fig. 6).

Figure 6: Style 5, Anthropomorphic, eyes depicted; a) Style 5A (SID00632); b) Style 5B (SID00022); c) Style 5C (SID00535); d) Style 5D (SID00285).

Style 6 also is anthropomorphic, but hair is clearly depicted both on obverse and reverse faces of the pebble. The Central Element is positioned higher on the pebbles than in other styles; it usually includes a rectangle or oval suggestive of a mouth. Eyes are most frequently depicted by short horizontal bars, but sometimes are depicted by vertical chevrons. No revisions are proposed for Style 6 (Fig. 7).

Figure 7: Style 6, Anthropomorphic, hair clearly depicted; a) SID00397; b) SID00701.

Newly proposed Style 7 includes a variety of geometric designs that differ markedly from those included in Style 1. Divided into three substyles, Style 7 pebbles may exhibit designs that depict “butterfly” motifs (Style 7A) while others comprise vertical lines only (Style 7B). Still others (Style 7C) contain various geometrics such as chevrons that may be nested or sometimes interlocking (Fig. 8).

 

Figure 8: Style 7, Late Geometrics; a) Style 7A (SID00382); b) Style 7B (SID00733); c) Style 7c (SID00189).

Parsons (1967, 1986) thought the various styles of painted pebbles formed a continuous artistic tradition that extended from the Early Archaic period through the Late Prehistoric period. That notion, however, was based on an outdated concept of Lower Pecos River regional chronology wherein the Late Archaic began at about 3000 B.P. As currently understood, the Late Archaic begins at about 4000 B.P. (Black and Dial 2005; Castaneda et al. 2018).

As originally proposed by Parsons, Style 1 pebbles indeed date to the Early Archaic (9000 – 6000 B.P.) as is confirmed by stratigraphic position and radiocarbon assays obtained from Eagle Cave (41VV167) near Langtry (Koenig and Black 2017). None of the styles are found in contexts suggesting a Middle Archaic (6000 – 4000 B.P.) age affiliation, contrary to assertions by some researchers (Mock 2012; Turpin and Middleton 1998). Styles 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 are all Late Archaic (4000 – 1200 B.P.) in age although some may extend into the early part of the Late Prehistoric. While Parsons postulated a temporal seriation among those styles, this suggestion cannot be confidently supported at this time. That Style 6 dates to the Late Prehistoric (1200 – 400 B.P.) as Parsons proposed seems quite reasonable although no examples have been found in clear unmixed context.

Acknowledgements:  Thank you to the numerous people who have assisted in this ongoing study. The staff at TARL, the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio, the Amistad National Recreation Area of the National Park Service and the Jack Skiles family generously allowed access to their collections.

This summary is revised and condensed from a paper entitled “A Review of Parsons’ Painted Pebble Styles” presented at the 89th Annual Meeting of the Texas Archeological Society, San Antonio TX 26-28 October 2018.

 

 

References Cited

Black, S. L. and S. W. Dial, 2005. Electronic document, https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/prehistory, (accessed 19 December 2018).

Castañeda, A. M., C. W. Koenig, M. W. Rowe and K. L. Steelman, 2018. Portable X-ray Fluorescence of Lower Pecos Painted Pebbles: New Insights Regarding Chaîne Opératoire, Context, and Chronology. Manuscript on file, Shumla, Comstock TX (submitted to Journal of Archaeological Science).

Davenport, J.W. and C. Chelf, 1941. Painted Pebbles from the Lower Pecos and Big Bend Regions of Texas. Bulletin V, Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, TX.

Koenig, C.W. and S.L. Black, 2017. Low Impact, High Resolution: Unraveling and Learning from 10,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherer Use of Eagle Cave. Paper presented at Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, March 29th-April 2nd, Vancouver BC, Canada.

Mock, S.B., 1987. The Painted Pebbles of the Lower Pecos: A Study of Medium, Form and Content. M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at San Antonio.

Mock, S.B., 2011. Portable Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands: The Symbolic Work of Women. American Indian Rock Art 37:115-132.

Mock, S.B., 2012. 41VV2079 – A Rock Shelter Excavated by Ted Sayles in 1932. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 83:191-213.

Mock, S.B., 2013. Painted Pebbles: Lower Pecos Women Take Charge. In: Shafer, H.J. (Ed.), Painters in Prehistory: Archaeology and Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. Trinity University Press, San Antonio, TX, pp. 223-240.

Parsons, M.L., 1967. Painted Pebbles: A Stylistic and Chronological Analysis. Manuscript on file at Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, Austin TX.

Parsons, M.L., 1986. Painted Pebbles: Styles and Chronology. In: Shafer, H.J. (Ed.), Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos. Texas Monthly Press, Austin, TX, pp. 180-185.

Turpin, S.A., and L. Middleton, 1998. Painted Pebbles from Archaic Contexts in 41VV156, A Rockshelter in the Lower Pecos Region, Val Verde County, Texas. La Tierra 25(3):51-54.

 

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.

ONE BURNED PRICKLYPOPPY SEED AND A FEW OTHER THINGS WE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WE HAD

Leslie L. Bush

Macrobotanical Analysis

 

 

Last fall, an archeologist working at TARL recognized a rare opportunity to look for plant remains from a site that had been excavated nearly 80 years ago. The site is the Rob Roy Site (41TV41), located in western Travis County, Texas on a terrace of the Colorado River. Austin residents will recognize the name for the residential subdivision that now overlooks the site. University of Texas personnel led by Dr. Kalvero Oberg excavated at Rob Roy from December 1938 to April 1939 with funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Artifacts and notes were sent to TARL, but as attention turned toward World War II, the materials were never properly analyzed or written up.

 

Regular readers of the TARL blog know that retired archeologist Dan Prikryl is currently working on the Rob Roy collections (December 2016, December 2017). He originally planned to use two charcoal samples from Rob Roy for radiocarbon dating, but he quickly realized that the soil collected along with the wood charcoal could contain small seeds or bulbs from foods and other useful plants. These could be parts of food plants that were accidentally burned during cooking, medicinal plants discarded after being used in poultices or teas, or debris from plants used for objects like baskets that were disposed of by burning in a campfire. Only plants that have been carbonized (turned to charcoal in a fire) can survive in the soil for hundreds or thousands of years at a site like Rob Roy where the deposits aren’t protected by cave walls and where the climate is humid enough that fresh plant parts decay into compost within weeks, months, or decades.

 

It’s not quite clear why Dr. Oberg directed workers to save charcoal samples from the Rob Roy site. WPA-era excavators working on large mound centers like the George C. Davis Site collected burned corn cobs and beans but not usually wood charcoal. Radiocarbon dating, which is often done on wood charcoal, hadn’t been invented in the late 1930s when excavations were going on. The principle of flotation processing, the method for extracting small seeds from archaeological soils, was known but didn’t come into common use in archeology until the 1980s. It’s possible Dr. Oberg knew about early studies in dendrochronology and dendroclimatology and decided to collect samples in case they turned out to be useful for tree ring dating or understanding past climate and weather patterns.

 

Since I specialize in identifying wood, nutshell, seeds, and similar plant material from archeological sites, Dan showed me the two charcoal samples from Rob Roy in the spring of 2017. I was able to select and identify a few fragments of wood charcoal for radiocarbon dating. Even in that quick scan, I could see that two types of wood had been burned in Feature 1, live oak (Quercus fusiformis; Figure 1) and an oak of the white group (Quercus sect. Quercus, which includes post oak, Q. stellata). Feature 2 contained white group oak, but it wasn’t clear if any other kind of plant material was present.

Figure 1: A fragment of live oak wood charcoal from Feature 1.

 

The size of the sample from Feature 1 was 4.1 cubic decimeters, about a gallon, and it included loose soil as well as charcoal. At 0.1 cubic decimeters, the sample from Feature 2 was smaller, roughly ½ cup, but it also included some soil. Dan and I judged that flotation processing would allow us to recover small seeds or bulb fragments that might be present but not readily recognizable among all the dirt and wood charcoal. Dan was interested in knowing what kinds of foods might have been cooked in the earth ovens at Rob Roy. Bison was abundant at the site, but plant foods are commonly cooked in earth ovens, too (Thoms et al. 2018). Many bulbs, roots, and tubers are more palatable and nutritious after the long slow cooking that earth ovens provide (Wandsnider 1997). In central Texas, these include wild onions and garlic (Allium spp.), eastern camas (Camassia scilloides), and scurfpea (Pediomelum spp.). We also hoped to recover plant material such as grass stems, grape leaves (Vitis spp.), and pricklypear pads (Opuntia spp.) that would have been used to provide moisture and insulate the food plants from the ash and charcoal in the fire. Dr. Steve Black, another archeologist associated with TARL (TBH co-editor) who has worked extensively on earth ovens, was also interested in seeing what, if any, plants might have been cooked in the earth ovens at Rob Roy. He provided a small grant to get the project underway.

 

TARL curator Marybeth Tomka prepared loan papers that allowed me to take the charcoal samples to my laboratory for processing and microscopic examination. Flotation processing is a water separation method where soil from an archeological site is placed in water to allow any bits of plants to float to the surface while soil particles and any artifacts sink to the bottom of the container. Floating plant material can then be poured off (decanted) into a fine mesh or scooped off with a fine mesh strainer. Flotation processing can be as simple as placing soil in a 5-gallon bucket and decanting plant material into the kind of fine mesh used in tent windows (Figure 2). Any heavier artifacts still in the soil can be separated by pouring the remaining sludge through a screen. This method is what I used for the Rob Roy samples. More elaborate flotation systems use devices like electric sump pumps, jet nozzles, and aerators to make flotation faster and easier. All three editions of Deborah Pearsall’s essential textbook, Paleoethnobotany, include extensive discussion of various flotation devices.

Figure 2: Flotation light fraction from the Eagle Bluff Site (41ME147), where light gastropods were decanted from the water surface along with modern rootlets and ancient charcoal. “24” is the number of this sample in the flotation log book.

 

Microscopic examination of the flotation samples showed that the archeological plants at Rob Roy consisted mostly of wood charcoal. Based on a sample of twenty fragments selected at random from each feature, Feature 1 contained about 85% live oak and 15% white oak. Feature 2 was at least 95% white oak, but a single fragment of wood charcoal was clearly not oak. The fragment was too small and brittle to identify conclusively, but the closest match appears to be povertyweed (Baccharis spp.), a weedy shrub that colonizes open areas near streambanks. Use of oaks for earth oven cooking makes a lot of sense both because they would have been common in the area even thousands of  years ago and because they are dense woods that produce hot, long-lasting coals (Collier and Turner 1981; Marcouiller and Anderson n.d.). Carbonized fungi and insect droppings (probably termite) identified under the microscope indicate that the oak wood had been dead for some time prior to burning (Figure 3). Fuelwood was probably collected from snags or fallen trees in the gallery forest along the Colorado River.

 

Figure 3: Carbonized fungus from Feature 1 at the Rob Roy Site

 

No evidence of bulbs or tubers that are commonly cooked in earth ovens or evidence of any material used to wrap foods during cooking was found in either sample. Feature 1 did produce seeds from one food plant and one medicinal plant, however.

 

The probable food plant remains consisted of three seeds and one seed fragment of goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) (Figures 4 and 5). Seeds of goosefoot plants are edible, and two species, C. quinoa (yes, that quinoa!) and C. berlandieri, were domesticated for their edible seeds in ancient times by Native American Indians. At least four species of goosefoot grow in Central Texas today, including C. berlandieri (Figure 6). No evidence for domesticated C. berlandieri has been found in the area, and the seeds from Rob Roy have thick, wild-type seedcoats. Goosefoot, quinoa, and other chenopodium species are members of the spinach family, known for nutritious, iron-rich greens. Goosefoot greens as well as seeds may have been exploited by the ancient inhabitants of the Rob Roy Site. In addition, the flowering seedheads of chenopodium species are edible, raw or cooked, like modern broccoli (Glore 2006). Nutritional studies of various species of chenopodium show they can be important sources of protein, minerals (especially iron), anti-oxidants, and anti-microbials (Navruz-Varli and Sanlier 2016; Poonia and Upadhayay 2015).

 

Figure 4: Goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) seeds and seed fragment from Feature 1, Rob Roy Site.

Figure 5: Chenopodium plants can be difficult to identify to species. This one, photographed in San Saba County on August 18, 2018, is either slim-leaf goosefoot (C. leptophyllum) or thick-leaf goosefoot (C. pratericola).

 

Figure 6: Fruits of pitseed goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) from a wild stand in western Travis County, Texas.

 

The probable medicinal plant remains consisted of one seed and two seed fragments of pricklypoppy (Argemone spp.) (Figures 7 and 8). To the author’s knowledge, this is the first pricklypoppy recovered archeologically in central Texas, although it is known from the Tres Metates Site in the Trans-Pecos (Dering 2008). Among historic Native Americans, use of pricklypoppies was almost always medicinal, and seeds were typically the plant part used. Paiutes, Shoshones, Kawaiisu, and Washoes used a salve containing the crushed seeds for cuts, sores, and burns (Moerman 1998:89-90). Shoshones used the salve to kill lice as well. Shoshones and Comanches used an infusion of pricklypoppy seeds to treat sore eyes, and Shoshones also ate pulverized seeds as a more general medicine (Moerman 1998:89-90). An American native, pricklypoppy is now widespread in warm regions worldwide, and its seeds, leaves, and roots have been used by many people to treat ailments from toothaches and eye problems to cancer (Cheatham et al. 1995:448-458).

 

Figure 7: Pricklypoppy seed from Feature 1, Rob Roy Site

 

Figure 8: Prickypoppy (Argemone sp.) photographed in western Travis County, Texas.

 

Although it was disappointing not to find evidence of typical earth oven plants like camas bulbs, scurfpea tubers, or prickypear pads, the information gained by processing and examining the flotation samples is still useful. First, we discovered evidence that the ancient inhabitants at the Rob Roy site were using pricklypoppy, probably medicinally, and eating the leaves, seeds, and/or flowering seedheads of goosefoot. As to what was cooked in the earth ovens, the lack of bulbs, tubers, or packing material suggests either that the people at Rob Roy were such very careful cooks that no plant foods or packing material were accidentally charred or that the earth ovens were used to cook something other than plant foods. Given the abundance of bison bone at the site, pit cooking of bison is a strong possibility.

 

Insights from plant remains at the Rob Roy Site highlight the long-term research potential of the extensive WPA collections at TARL: eight decades on the shelf and still yielding new data!

 

 

 

References Cited

 

Cheatham, Scooter, Marshall Corning Johnston, and Lynn Marshall

1995 Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northeastern Mexico, Volume 1: Abronia-Arundo. Useful Wild Plants, Inc., Austin, Texas.

 

Collier, Kathy, and Larry Turner

1981 Obtaining, Seasoning and Burning Wood, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service AEES-18. Lexington, Kentucky. https://www.bae.uky.edu/publications/AEES/AEES-18.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2015.

 

Dering, J. Phillip

2008 Ethnobotany of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. https://texasbeyondhistory.net/ethnobot/index.html. Accessed 9/15/18.

 

Glore, Angela Gordon

2006 Domesticated Chenopodium in North America: Comparing the Past and the Present. Ph. D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Washington University.

 

Marcouiller, Dave, and Steven Anderson

n.d.   Firewood: How to Obtain, Measure, Season, and Burn. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, NREM-9440. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2507/NREM-9440web.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2015.

 

Moerman, Daniel E.

1998 Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

 

Navruz-Varli, Semra, and Nevin Sanlier

2016 Nutritional and Health Benefits of Quinoa (Chenopodium Quinoa Willd.). Journal of Cereal Science 69: 371–376.

 

Pearsall, Deborah M.

2015 Paleoethnobotany: A Handbook of Procedures. 3rd ed. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.

 

Poonia, Amrita, and Ashutosh Upadhayay

2015 Chenopodium Album Linn: Review of Nutritive Value and Biological Properties. Journal of Food Science and Technology 52(7): 3977–3985.

 

Thoms, Alston V., Laura M. Short, Masahiro Kamiya & Andrew R. Laurence

2018 Ethnographies and Actualistic Cooking Experiments: Ethnoarchaeological Pathways toward Understanding Earth-Oven Variability in Archaeological Records. Ethnoarchaeology 10(2):76-98. https://doi/full/10.1080/19442890.2018.1510125

 

Wandsnider, LuAnn

1997 The Roasted and the Boiled: Food Composition and Heat Treatment with Special Emphasis on Pit-Hearth Cooking. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 16:1-48.

Thank You and Good Luck Lauren!

Dear friends and colleagues, 

Thank you so much for making my past few years at TARL some of the best years of my career. Although it’s time for me to move on, I have enjoyed working with and learning from you, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who welcomed me and shared their expertise with me. TARL is a truly special place and I will miss being a part of it. This isn’t goodbye, though–you will all see me around at professional and community events, not to mention doing research in the TARL library! 

I wish you all the best,

Lauren

We would like to thank Lauren Bussiere, our curatorial assistant, for her wonderful work here since 2015. Lauren is leaving TARL to explore a new stage in her career with a commercial company  SEARCH, Inc. Lauren has been an invaluable contributor to TARL, adding constant dedication to her archival work ensuring the preservation of material in perpetuity and facilitating both student and public outreach. Within the Texas archaeological community, Lauren is highly valued and respected for her contributions both to TARL and its associated researchers. Her work is often marked by innovation and commitment to implementing the most up to date curatorial standards.  With the utmost enthusiasm valuing all that archaeology has to offer a community, Lauren frequently engaged in educational opportunities, oversight of undergraduate internships, and outreach through our blog, Facebook, and TARL newsletter.

As a true Texan, Lauren received her B.A. from Texas State University and then went on to earn an M.A. from the University of California, San Diego. With robust experience, her career includes work in Jordan, Mexico, Belize, California, and Texas. Her vast knowledge and capabilities will make her an excellent Laboratory Manager for SEARCH, Inc! While we will greatly miss Lauren, we wish her the best of luck and are excited for the possibility to work with her in a different capacity in the future!

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.”

Texas Archeology Month Fair 2018

RAIN UPDATE:

We are NOT cancelling this event due to rain! Instead, we are moving the event inside to the Commons Learning Center (the purple building on the map below).

It’s that time again! TARL is planning our annual Texas Archeology Month Fair! This year’s Fair will take place on International Archeology Day, October 20, 2018.

Join us in the Commons Learning Center at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in north Austin from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for free, hands-on fun for all!

The Texas Archeology Month Fair brings together dozens of professional and avocational archeologists from across Texas, who lead a wide variety of hands-on educational activities and demonstrations on many different archaeological topics. The event is open to all visitors and there’s something fun for everyone!

The Pickle Research Campus is located in north Austin near the Domain shopping center, just west of MoPac at the corner of Burnet Road and Braker Lane.

This year’s activities and demonstrations will include:

  • Pottery-making
  • Sandal weaving
  • Fire drilling
  • Flintknapping
  • Atlatl and rabbit sticks (prehistoric hunting techniques)
  • Painted pebbles
  • Rock art
  • Historic button-making
  • Face painting
  • And many more!

Thank you so much to our partners and sponsors, who are helping to make this event possible!

This year’s donors include:

Louis Shanks of Austin

TARL’s event partners include:

  • UT’s Anthropological Society
  • UT’s Anthropology department
  • UT’s Classics department
  • UT’s Mesoamerican Center
  • The Texas Archeological Society
  • The Texas State History Museum
  • Great Promise for American Indians
  • TxDOT
  • The Travis County Archeological Society
  • The Llano Uplift Archeologial Society
  • The American Institute for Archaeology, Central Texas chapter
  • Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology program
  • The Sophienburg Museum
  • The Gault School of Archaeological Research
  • The Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center
  • Texas Military Forces
  • The Council of Texas Archeologists
  • The Texas Historical Commission
  • The Lower Colorado River Authority
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife
  • Many individual volunteers

TARL is looking for general volunteers to assist presenters and help with set-up and clean-up. To volunteer, please email lauren.bussiere@utexas.edu.

Texas State’s Forensic Anthropology team shows these young researchers how to document their finds at the 2017 Texas Archeology Month Fair.

 

The Bioarchaeology of Care in the Lower Pecos Region by Pamela Hanson, Central Texas A&M

Pamela Hanson is a student at Central Texas A&M. This article is part of the September 2018 TARL Newsletter. 


My name is Pamela Hanson and I’m working with Dr. Christine Jones at Texas A&M University-Central Texas Department of Social Sciences. Our current research project invites one to imagine caregiving and receiving among the hunter-gatherers of the past. Like us today, they would likely have experienced disease and disability, love and community. How might they have sought healing and comfort? What clues did they leave for us? It is really exciting to examine artifacts from the ancient peoples of the Lower Pecos region of Texas at TARL and explore these questions.

Please stop by and visit our poster “Healing pathways: Exploring the Bioarchaeology of Care in the Lower Pecos” at the upcoming TAS meetings.

Pamela Hanson and Dr. Christine Jones.

Welcome, Jeff!

TARL is very pleased to welcome a new staff member, our new TexSite and Atlas Coordinator Jeff Arnold. Jeff is taking over the position recently vacated by longtime TARL staff member Jean Hughes. Jeff is now the person to contact regarding site recording forms, TexSite and Atlas submissions, and general mapping and GIS inquiries. He wanted to share this message:

Greetings to everyone,

I would like to thank all of the people at TARL and all of TARL’s associates that have welcomed me over the last few weeks. Since the beginning of August, I have been training with Jean Hughes to take over the position of TexSite and Atlas Coordinator following her retirement. Since there are so many people that I have not yet met, I’m grateful for this opportunity to introduce myself.

I was born and raised here in Austin, Texas and I am finishing my Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Texas. For a little over 8 years, I worked as a logistician in the United States Marine Corps where I finished my career as a Logistics Operations Instructor and curriculum developer of
logistics courses. After coming back to Austin, I was reintroduced to my high school girlfriend and we recently married in December of 2017. If you are ever visiting TARL, please drop by and say hi. I am looking forward to meeting many of you in the archeological community!

Hook ‘em Horns,
Jeff Arnold

TARL TexSite and Atlas Coordinator Jeff Arnold.

TARL Symposium at TAS and Other Upcoming Conferences

A number of TARL staff members, former student interns, and researchers will be presenting their research at the Texas Archeological Society’s Annual Meeting in San Antonio October 26 – 27, 2018. We will have approximately 12 presentations on a variety of topics: painted pebbles, experimental flintknapping, public outreach, collections rehabilitation, independent student research, and more. We are excited to present this research, and to hear feedback on our work from the community!

Beyond the upcoming symposium, we are busy keeping abreast of all things curatorial going on around the nation. In addition to attending local society meetings like those of the Travis County Archeological Society (TCAS) and TAS, TARL staff members will be attending several conferences in spring 2019. In January 2019, TARL Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka will be part of a round table discussion on standards of cataloguing for repositories at the Society for Historical Archaeology’s Annual Meeting in Saint Charles, Missouri. Marybeth serves as a member of the Curation and Collections Committee.

Marybeth and TARL Curatorial Associate Lauren Bussiere also plan to present a poster at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April 2019. The committee on Collections, Museums and Curation is sponsoring the poster session, the goal of which is to encourage and facilitate collections-based research by building relationships and sharing knowledge. Marybeth is a former member of this committee and still keeps up with their activities and sits in on their meetings when possible. An offshoot of the committee is the formation of the Curation Interest Group that Marybeth co-chairs.

Additional papers will be presented at the 2019 SAA meeting by Lauren (on the topic of pseudoarchaeology), TARL Curatorial Technician Annie Riegert (bioarchaeology in Belize), and TARL Affiliated Researcher Nadya Prociuk (shell ornaments and tools from south Texas). We welcome all colleagues and interested parties to check out our presentations, give us feedback, and share their research with us!

McKinney Falls Artifacts for Interpretive Site Visits, by Marni Francell, Texas Parks and Wildlife

Marni Francell is an archaeologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. This article is part of the September 2018 TARL Newsletter.


McKinney Falls State Park is a hidden gem just 20-minutes from downtown Austin. The sparkling waters of Onion Creek provide relief to park visitors from the hot Texas sun and offer recreational opportunities such as swimming and fishing. Prehistorically, people depended upon the creek and its many resources to survive. Evidence of their occupation can be seen through artifacts left behind at the Smith Rockshelter (41TV42). Excavated by Dee Ann (Suhm) Story in the 1950s, the Smith Rockshelter at McKinney Falls State Park gives park visitors a glimpse of how early inhabitants of Central Texas lived. In an effort to provide a hands-on learning experience, Park Interpreter Kristen Williams and TPWD Regional Archeologist Luis Alvarado plan to have replicas of several diagnostic artifacts cast. These artifact replicas will be used for outreach activities related to the shelter and Central Texas Archeology in general. Kristen and Luis, along with TPWD Archeologist Marni Francell and AmeriCorps member Jamie Gillis, visited TARL to see the Smith Rockshelter collection and to discuss loan options for replication.

Kristen Williams and Luis Alvarado from Texas Parks and Wildlife examine artifacts from the 41TV42 collection at TARL.

Most archeological collections from Texas State Parks are curated at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Archeology Lab, a state certified curatorial facility. However, the 1950s Smith Rockshelter collection is housed at the Texas Archeological Research Lab because the shelter, at the time, was on private property. McKinney Falls was not acquired by the State of Texas until the early 1970s. It was opened to the public on April 15, 1976.

Upcoming programs at McKinney Falls can be found here. While
it may be some time before the replicas are ready, park staff look forward to providing the public with the opportunity to hold history in their hands.

A group of students visits Smith Rockshelter in McKinney Falls State Park in Austin to learn about prehistoric life in the area.
A Pedernales point from the 41TV42 collection at TARL, one of the artifacts that may be replicated so park employees can use it as they give tours and educate park visitors.

The Texas Archeological Research Laboratory