Historical archeologist John Wilburn Clark, Jr. passed away on Sunday, May 24th. He was seventy-six years old.
A lifelong Austin, Texas resident, John initially went to the University of Texas at Austin to refine his artistic skills. However, after venturing on a field trip with an anthropology professor, he soon developed a lifelong passion for anthropology and archeology and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Anthropology. He later attended graduate school at the University of Arkansas and became a Registered Professional Archeologist. His knowledge base was expansive, enabling him to identify historical architectural styles, ceramics, and other artefacts. Though his interest in archeology was broad and spanned continents, he further specialized in Texas historical archeology and contributed extensively to current understanding of Spanish Colonial and Texas history. His work has been used to preserve and protect numerous historical sites.
Among his publications and contributions were: Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo: Archaeological Investigations, December 1974, 1978; La Reina Norteña: History and Archaeology of San Jose Mission, 1980; “Historical Antecedents Beyond the Texas Border” in A Texas Legacy, the Old San Antonio Road and the Caminos Reales, 1998; and many others. He was a contributor to such journals as the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society, and regularly wrote extensive reports for the Texas Department of Transportation.
John’s passion for history and archaeology took him to many places, including Mexico, where he met his wife of forty-two years. A dedicated husband and father, John supported his wife and children throughout his life. He was also a doting grandfather who delighted in and encouraged his granddaughter’s artistic skills.
John is survived by his wife, Gloria Clark; three children, Wendy Clark, Ellen Dass, and Ashley Balcom; one grandchild, Aislyn; and a sister, Linda Clark.
Donations in memory of John W. Clark, Jr. can be made to the Texas Archeological Research Lab (TARL), at the University of Texas at Austin. Online donations can be made using the link https://utdirect.utexas.edu/apps/utgiving/online/nlogon/?menu=LA**&source=LWE. Be sure to select TARL from the drop-down menu. Use the blank to enter John’s name and use the “special information” to indicate Friends’ Group. Mail-in donations can be sent to TARL, 1 University Station, R7500, Austin, Texas 78712 and indicate on your check in memory of John W. Clark, Jr.
October 10th from 10 AM to 2 PM at the JJ Pickle Research Campus of UT Austin.
For four years, we have had the great pleasure of hosting the Texas Archeology Month Fair. A variety of organizations, institutions and companies have contributed interactive experiences through an assortment of archaeological displays and hands-on activities. In celebration of the fifth year since the fair’s re-institution in 2016, we are bringing Austin an even bigger and better opportunity to engage with the history of Texas. Building on the successes of previous fairs, the 2020 fair will provide even greater opportunities for participation from the local Texas archeological community. At no cost to participate, this is an ideal opportunity for your organization to reach the public as an exhibitor or for your firm to donate in support of their outreach goals. Donations of just $100-$200 would go far in establishing the TARL Fair fund. Through contributions we will address the limitations from years past. We will secure stronger advertisement targeting our public audience and provide more appealing amenities. Among our already 26 confirmed exhibitors, we are delighted to announce new involvement from the Buffalo Soldiers and the larger Austin community with a classic Austinite array of food trucks. This extension of the fair is expected to attract a larger audience than previously reached in the fair’s recent history.
Along with our community, TARL has had to adjust in the current crisis and like our ancestors we adapt. Amidst these events we are still looking forward and in the deference of limited time for planning we are sharing our preparation progress and future plans for the 2020 Texas Archeology Month Fair. While we are planning for future normalcy we will continue to adjust with the ongoing situation. A contingency plan is already being formed in the event that the current COVID-19 crisis is still limiting public gatherings in the fall. In such a case, donors will be given the option of a reimbursement or the option for the funds to be retained for use in the following 2021 TAM fair. The TARL Fair fund is yet another way in which we are securing the future of the Fair as any contributions will be retained with the sole purpose of use in the future fair. Our greatest commitment is to promote preservation and public edification of the great Texas archeological legacy. It would be our pleasure if you would join us in that endeavor.
Here at TARL we think Texas archaeology is a big deal. So please, help us celebrate archeology the Texas way!
The fair is free and open to the public. Tables and chairs will be provided for the exhibitors. More details will be provided over the next couple of months. For more information or inquiries into participation, please contact Annie Riegert at firstname.lastname@example.org and Clark Wernecke at Clark.Wernecke@austin.utexas.edu.
Much thanks to all who participated and attended the 2019 Texas Archeology Month Fair! With the help of 78 student volunteers and our local professional and avocational archeologists, TARL was able to hold another successful Texas Archeology Month Fair! This year’s fair was attended by 303 guests who were able to visit representatives from 22 different museums, archaeological organizations, and student groups. These groups had booths with a wide array of activities including atlatl throwing, ochre painting, multiple show and tell displays, flintknapping, interactive dance demonstrations, and much more! Much gratitude also goes to our generous donors including the Council of Texas Archeologists, the Texas Historical Commission, the Travis County Archaeological Society, AR Consultants, and the Gault School of Archaeological Research.
Check out some of the highlights from the fair below! (Photos courtesy of Tom Williams, Gault School of Archaeological Research)
Great Promise for American Indians conducted a dance demonstration and pulled the crowd in to learn a snake dance.
Christopher Ringstaff, Sergio Ayala, and Robert Lassen demonstrate flintknapping.
Student volunteers show fair attendees how to use the Atlatl.
Keva Boardman shows our younger attendees how to paint with fat and ochre.
Kenneth Headrick discusses real artifacts vs. reproductions.
UPDATE: Thanks to the generous donation from the Gault School of Archaeological Research the Texas Archaeology Month Fair will be held in the Commons Learning Center again this year (the purple building in the map below). Some booths such as atlatl throwing and flintknapping will still take place outside. We look forward to celebrating Texas Archeology Month with you!
October is almost here and TARL is planning our annual Texas Archeology Month Fair! Please join us to kick off Texas Archeology Month sponsored by the Texas Historical Commision, Council of Texas Archeologists and the Texas Archeological Society. This year’s Fair will take place on October 5, 2019. Join us on the soccer field 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! Thanks to the collaboration of professional and avocational archeologists, this free event provides an interactive education experience on the history of Texas through archaeological displays, hands-on activities, and artifact identification. Along with artifact identification, kids and adults have the opportunity to test their skills in pottery-making, atlatl throwing, artifact reconstruction, excavation, and more! Other highlights of the fair will include flintknapping demonstrations and face-painting. In addition the fair offers information on innovating techniques in the field such as 3-D modeling and how scientific methods are utilized to preserve the rich history of Texas at nearby sites. Please come out to join us for this free event open to the public!
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:
Atlatl and rabbit sticks (prehistoric hunting techniques)
Artifact Show and Tell
Dance Demonstration by Great Promise for American Indians
And many more!
This year’s donors include:
TARL’s event partners include:
UT’s Anthropological Society
UT’s Anthropology department
UT’s Classics department
UT’s Mesoamerica Center
The Texas Archeological Society
The Texas Memorial Museum
Great Promise for American Indians
The Travis County Archeological Society
Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology program
Texas State University’s Anthropology department
The Gault School of Archaeological Research
The Council of Texas Archeologists
The Texas Historical Commission
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 the curatorial associate, Annie Riegert at email@example.com
Thank you so much to our partners and sponsors, who are helping to make this event possible!
We are delighted to kick off the 2019 Texas Archeology Month. For more TAM events going on throughout October please visit:
UPDATE: Scheduling update! Lectures 2 and 5 have now been switched so that Thomas J. Williams will be presenting on September 27th and Nancy Velchoff will be presenting on November 8th. Please see the corrected schedule below.
Join the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory and the Prehistory Research Project this fall to learn all about Clovis Technology. Originally associated with the earliest peoples in North America, continued research has shown that Clovis technology is a younger cultural manifestation. Despite this, it remains unique in the Americas for its geographic range and technology. Researchers from the Prehistory Research Project will present on various topics including the history of Clovis research, overshot production, regional variability, experimental reproduction, and blade technology.
All lectures will take place on Fridays from 11:30-1:30 in Portable 5A outside of TARL’s main building on the J.J. Pickle Research Campus.
September 20th Michael B. Collins
Clovis at Gault and in the Western Hemisphere
Robust data on Clovis lithic technology from the Gault site, Central Texas, and other sites suggest an improved concept of Clovis as an archeological manifestation. Historically, fluted Clovis points have been the operative diagnostic artifact for Clovis which has given rise to interpretive limitations. When available evidence permits, a more reliable characterization of Clovis emerges from the full technology of stone tool production, use, maintenance, and discard. This paper will discuss Clovis technology and highlight some of the upcoming talks from the research staff at the Prehistory Research Project.
September 27th Thomas J. Williams
Blade manufacturing: The Other Clovis Technology
Twenty years ago, Michael Collins identified the presence of a core-and-blade industry within the Clovis technological spectrum. While now general accepted as part of Clovis stone tool manufacturing, blade and blade cores are often under researched. In contrast to the ad-hoc production of long, narrow flakes, Clovis technology demonstrates a specific production sequence to generate a series of regularized blades from prepared cores. This talk will focus on the Clovis assemblage from the Gault Archaeological Site and explore the blade cores themselves. By understanding and examining the reduction sequences, chaîne opératoire, and blade use, archaeologist can explore the larger implications of this core-and-blade industry.
October 4th Alan M. Slade
Clovis Fluted Point Regional Variability: What’s the Point?
Clovis projectile points were long regarded as the hallmark of the first human presence in North America, although now there is considerable evidence of an ‘Older-Than-Clovis (OTC) technology present. Clovis groups spread rapidly across the continent during the end of the last Ice Age at around 11,500 14C BP / 13,300 Cal yrs leaving behind similar fluted projectile points in all 48 inland states of North America during a period of what could be as little as 250 years, going by the oldest dated Clovis site, to the youngest. As an archaeological culture Clovis portrays a range of variations in technology and the projectile point has often been the primary, if not only, diagnostic means of identifying a particular assemblage as being ‘Clovis’.
There is at present a real need for Clovis as a technological culture to be defined and until archaeologists and analysts agree on what is and what is not Clovis, there will always be a problem in definition due to the fact that some archaeologists and researchers call certain assemblages Clovis and others assign their projectiles to being ‘Clovis-like’, or in some cases assigning different culture or type such as Gainey, Ross County and St. Louis, even though they appear chronologically and technologically contemporaneous in the archaeological record.
A Clovis projectile point typology, defined by ‘stylistic variation’ may go some way in clarifying the issue. In this presentation I will identify and separate some of the variations within the projectile point assemblages from well documented and archaeologically recorded Clovis sites, some projectile points that are in private collections and selected isolated point discoveries will also be included.
November 1st Sergio Ayala
Behavioral Perspectives on Clovis Biface Technology
Clovis technological behaviors orbit closely around a central design and production system but does contain variability. From both Clovis caches and Clovis sites, ovate bifaces, completed lanceolates, and refurbished lanceolates encompass a spectrum of Clovis behaviors that merit behavioral/technological analysis and experimental support. A preliminary review of examples from the broad physiographic regions of the US, the degree of observed variability, and the implications will be discussed.
November 8th Nancy Velchoff M.Ph, CIG
Inventing the Clovis Bourgeois: Hyperbole and Periphery of the
Clovis Overshot Flake
(Most People Will Never be Great at Intentional Overshot Flaking)
Overshot flakes and scars have long been considered diagnostic of Clovis biface technology even though there were few data to support the argument. Recent debates in Clovis biface technology raised issue against assumptions countering Clovis’ use of overshot flaking was unintentional. Traditional research approach to Clovis technology often focused on finished bifaces or projectile points, and thus only provided a myopic view of the manufacturing process. An unusual love for waste flakes inspired a very different approach through reverse engineering to address several issues, specifically the overshot flaking problem. The Gault Site — a quarry/campsite – was the ideal case study to conduct research on Clovis biface production where hundreds of thousands of manufacturing waste flakes and nearly 500 overshot flakes were recovered from Clovis contexts. This presentation will discuss cracking the Clovis technology code and overshot flakes and reveal unexpected behavior patterns. These unusual flakes served a dual-purpose during reduction phases, but an even bigger surprise was discovering evidence that Clovis knappers intentionally used overshot flaking as part of their technological repertoire.
On October 19, 2019, The Falls on the Colorado Museum will host its second Archeology Day program from 9:30 am until 3:30 pm. This program will provide the public with a discussion of ongoing research in Texas archaeology. The program will be followed by an artifact identification event (“show and tell”) during which local collectors and others can share their finds and obtain help in identifying specimens.
At 10 am, Dr. Thomas R. Hester will start program with a discussion of “Trade and Technology: Ancient Stone Tools in Texas.” Dr. Hester is Professor of Anthropology, emeritus, at UT-Austin, and serves as a member of the Board of Directors at the museum.
Following Dr. Hester will be Clint McKenzie, speaking on “Archaeology, Radiocarbon Dates and Summary of Black Vulture Rockshelter, Bandera County, Texas”. Mr. McKenzie is working on his doctorate at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Following these two presentations, light refreshments will be available.
During the afternoon program, from 1-3:30, Dr. Hester and colleagues will help identify artifacts and discuss collections. Their only request is that large, cased collections be limited to one frame due to space.
The museum does not charge admission, but relies on donations from our visitors. Regular museum hours are Thursday through Saturday, from 10-4. The museum is located at 2001 Broadway, Marble Falls. Phone 830.798.2157.
We are pleased to introduce a component of the TARL family, the
Center for Archaeological and Tropical Studies (CATS). The CATS
research facility is primarily focused in tropical Central America,
but has research interests in broader regions of the neotropics.
This interdisciplinary research unit has been operating for several
decades with a sister facility in Belize, the Programme for Belize
Archaeological Project (PfBAP). PfBAP research has been conducted on over 60 Maya sites within the research focus defined by the nature reserve covering 260,000 acres at the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area.
While this comment serves to Introduce CATS, forthcoming
newsletters will provide specific research interests and findings
of CATS as well as ongoing research right here at CATS Corner!
Serving as Director of CATS is Dr. Fred Valdez of the Department
of Anthropology (UT-Austin) and may be reached at
Over the past two years, the Houston Archeological Society (HAS) has been working with the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas to assess the contents of the extensive Andy Kyle Archeological Collection currently curated at the Center. The collection was donated to the Center by the late Mr. Andy Kyle and consists of well over 30,000 artifacts collected from 95 sites in 9 Southeast Texas counties. One of the more prolific sites represented in the collection is the Savoy site (41LB27) located in northeastern Liberty County. Artifacts from the Savoy site range from Middle Archaic to Late Prehistoric, with an extensive collection from the Woodland period (Crook et al. 2017).
A number of exotic items are present in the site collections including two broken bannerstones made from lithic material not native to Texas, a broken boatstone, and a large partial bowl of the rare Lower Mississippian ceramic type Mabin Stamped, var. Joe’sBayou. Recently, several previously unknown boxes of material from the Savoy site were located by Ms. Alana Inman, Director of the Sam Houston Regional Library. In these boxes was a small, cone-shaped ceramic artifact which could not be readily identified. The artifact has been shown to a number of colleagues both from Texas and Louisiana without any success in identification. It is hoped that this short paper will prompt someone to contact the author and assist in the artifact’s identification and functional use.
The Savoy Site (41LB27)
The Savoy site is located approximately 4.2 km southwest of the community of Moss Hill in northeastern Liberty County. The site is bisected by County Road 2099 and hand written notes left by Mr. Kyle in the boxes of artifacts in the collection indicate that the unknown ceramic artifact described herein was found on the part of the site that occurs south of CR 2099, known locally as the “Stone Field” after the property’s original owner. The Savoy site is part of a series of four sites that occur parallel to one another along a 600 meter southeast-to-northwest stretch of land. Site 41LB26 lies 215 meters to the southeast; site 41LB28 is 225 meters to the northwest; and site 41LB29 is 400 meters to the northwest. All four sites contain similar cultural material ranging from the Middle Archaic to the Woodland period and into the Late Prehistoric period as well (Kindall and Patterson 1987; Crook et al. 2017). The nearest source of permanent water to the Savoy site is Knight’s Bayou, which is located 1.2 km to the west. Knight’s Bayou is a tributary of the Trinity River which currently lies 2.5 km to the west of the site.
The Savoy site was originally recorded in 1973 by the University of Texas during the Louisiana Loop Survey (Elton R. Prewitt, personal communication, 2019). A second survey was conducted in the mid-1980s by members of the HAS in conjunction with Mr. Andy Kyle who showed them where his artifacts were found (Kindall and Patterson 1987; Sheldon Kindall, personal communication, 2017). A third exploration of the area was conducted in 2014 by TRC Environmental Corporation as part of a pipeline right-of-way survey. TRC conducted 21 shovel tests over both the north and southern portions of the site. Nine of the 21 shovel tests contained cultural materials including a Gary point, an Alba point, and numerous ceramic sherds (TRC notes on file with the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory).
Occupational material at the Savoy site covers at least 0.7 acres today, however, based on information given to the HAS by Mr. Kyle, this area represents only about 20 percent of the original site size. Much of the site was destroyed by the construction of CR 2099 coupled with farming and house construction in the area (Sheldon Kindall, personal communication, 2017). Soils covering the area of the Savoy site belong to the Spurger-Bienville-Kennefick complex, specifically a mix of Bienville and Kennefick soils (Griffen 1996). The typical soil profile at the site consists of about 13 cm of a dark brown loamy fine sand underlain by 200+ cm of a very fine-grain dark yellowish-brown loamy sand (Griffen 1996). The artifact horizon extends to at least one meter or more in depth.
Artifacts from the site generally represent the following archeological periods: (1) Archaic – 6000-2000 B.P. (marked by Ellis, Yarbrough, Kent, Ensor, and Gary points), (2) Woodland phase – 2000-1400 B.P. (marked by Gary and Kent points and both plain and decorated sandy paste ceramics), and (3) Late Prehistoric 1400-500 B.P. (marked by Alba, Catahoula, Friley, and Perdiz points, and both locally manufactured and imported Caddo ceramics) (Crook et al. 2017; Suhm et al. 1954; Suhm and Jelks 1962; Turner and Hester 1985, 1993, 1999; Turner et al. 2011).
The Mystery Artifact
As mentioned above, the artifact in question is a cone-shaped ceramic made from a sandy clay paste. It appears that the object is intentionally made and has not been repurposed from a broken sherd. It has been well-fired and is not friable, unlike most of the Goose Creek type ceramics from the site. Color varies from very pale brown (10YR 7/3-7/4) to pale brown (10YR 6/3). Length of the cone is 36.0 mm (Figure 1). Width is 15.0 mm at the wide end tapering to 6.1 mm at the pointed end. A small perforation approximately 1.5 mm in diameter transits through the entire length of the artifact (Figure 2).
At the wide end of the cone, the end is recessed to a depth of about 8 mm. Examination under a under high power (20-80x) Dino-Lite AM4111-T digital microscope shows the walls of the recessed end are slightly darkened and there is some unknown black residue on one side (Figure 3). No other wear was observed. To date, none of the darkened material has been removed for potential chemical analysis.
The cone-shaped ceramic artifact described herein is not only unique among all the artifacts recovered from the Savoy site, it is also completely unique among the entire Andy Kyle Archeological collection. Most of the artifacts collected by Mr. Kyle from the Savoy site were found on the surface so any artifact association with the object is unknown. However, given the composition of the ceramic and the fact that similar sandy paste ceramics have been recovered from the site, it is likely that the cone-shaped object is Woodland in age. Elton Prewitt (personal communication, 2019) postulated that the object was of Mississippian origin which is certainly possible given the presence of bannerstones made from exotic materials and the Mabin Stamped, var. Joe’s Bayou bowl from the same area of the site.
As to function, this remains problematical. The most common suggestions given to the author by colleagues is that it is either a perforated ornament of some type or a type of tubular pipe. Neither explanation is convincing, especially give the very small diameter (1.5 mm) of the perforation. If anyone from the Texas archeological community has seen something similar, please contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is grateful to Ms. Alana Inman, Manager of the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas for inviting the Houston Archeological Society to participate in the development of the new prehistory exhibit at the Center and thus affording us the opportunity to study in detail all the artifacts contained in the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection. Alana not only provided open access to study the collection but also allowed for the study of artifacts outside the Center. I am also grateful to HAS colleague, Robert Sewell, who helped me take the high resolution digital photomicrograph which appears in this paper.
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, 29:13-56. Houston.
Griffen, Kirby L.
1996 Soil Survey of Liberty County, Texas. United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Texas Agricultural and Experiment Station and the Harris County Flood Control District.
Kindall, Sheldon and Leland W. Patterson
1987 The Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Southeast Texas. The Journal 86:14-21. Houston Archeological Society, Houston.
Suhm, Dee Ann and Alex D. Krieger, with the collaboration of Edward B. Jelks
1954 An Introductory Handbook of Texas Archeology. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 25:1-562.
Suhm, Dee Ann and Edward B. Jelks (editors)
1962 Handbook of Texas Archeology: Type Descriptions. Special Publication No. 1, Texas Archeological Society and Bulletin No. 4, Texas Memorial Museum.
Turner, Ellen Sue and Thomas R. Hester
1985 A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. Gulf Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
1993 A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. 2nd Edition. Gulf Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
1999 A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. 3rd Edition. Gulf Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
Turner, Ellen Sue, Thomas R. Hester, and Richard L. McReynolds
2011 Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. Taylor Trade Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
Myself and Caroline Znachko, Ph.D. students from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, have been collecting skeletal data from the Ernest Witte mortuary site. The site is an Archaic cemetery from east-central Texas and was utilized by a semi-sedentary indigenous group between 2,700 B.C.E. and 1,500 C.E. The Archaic period is known for increasing population and drastic climate change in Texas. This information, coupled with an analysis of the developmental timing of linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), leads to a meaningful consideration of the impact of a changing environment on the life course of Middle and Late Archaic Texas hunter-gatherers. Out of 191 individuals analyzed, 40 were affected by LEH with more males affected than females overall. Age-at-formation analyses indicate a slightly earlier first age-at-onset of LEH for females than males and an earlier age-at-onset for young adults. These results provide further insight into populational patterns of the skeletal embodiment of early childhood stress in hunter-gatherers and can offer additional insight into health and stress patterns in the Texas Archaic.
We were invited to present this research by Marybeth Tomka at the TARL Renovations, Rehabilitation, Reorganization, and Research symposium at the 2018 Texas Archeological Society meeting and have recently offered a workshop through TARL to train students in dental pathology data collection. In the future, we plan to work with TARL to offer more workshops like this for students of all experiences completely free!
In addition, through this workshop, we identified two students with strong potential for future success in the field. These students are helping us to collect more LEH data from the Morhiss site and Crestmont site this summer. They will be collecting their own data and asking their own research questions as well and will be presenting posters at next year’s conferences on dental abscesses, caries, and their relation to LEH. Our aim is to ultimately yield research that helps with our understanding of the climate change and population increase that occurred during the Texas Archaic.
1981 Allens Creek: A study in the Cultural Prehistory of the Lower Brazos River Valley, Texas. Texas Archeological Survey Research Report NO. 61, The University of Texas at Austin.
In the June, 2018 issue of this newsletter, I reviewed some of the reasoning and methods that underpin paleoenvironmental research involving snails, and I pointed out that the southwestern quadrant of Texas (basically, west of longitude 100º W and south of latitude 32ºN) is almost a blank slate for archeomalacologists. We know that the better-watered eastern half of the state often produces abundant and informative snail faunas from sites in alluvial deposits, but what about sites in dryland alluvial settings? Dryland floodplains often lack fringing gallery forests and are essentially open habitats with high insolation, constant exposure to wind, and a conspicuous lack of leaf litter from deciduous tree canopy. Trees, if present at all, are likely to be represented only by scrub brush. Woody species in desert settings tend to be small-leaved, because high insolation makes photosynthesis very efficient, so leaf litter is often scarce or absent. Ground cover may be sparse, unless there is good grass cover in wet years, or rock rubble in sloping areas. Conditions like these are challenging for snails, which are highly moisture-sensitive.
One of the earliest studies in the state was done by Cheatum (1966) as part of the Amistad paleoecological project at Eagle Cave, Bonfire Shelter, Devil’s Mouth, and Devil’s Rockshelter, but the number of samples, volumetric size of samples, and number of specimens are not disclosed and intrasite provenience is reported only by stratum. In the entire vast area of the Big Bend (more than 12,300 square miles, not counting parts of Culberson, Hudspeth, and Reeves counties), no formal archeomalacological studies have been done until recently, as far as I know.
The Genevieve Lykes Duncan site (41 BS 2615, Early Holocene to present, Brewster County)
This site lies 54 km south of Alpine, toward the western side of the sprawling O2 Ranch, a 272,000-acre ranch that actually sprawls over into Presidio County (Fig. 1). This is the eastern part of the Basin and Range province, and the site sits at the north end of Green Valley, on an interfluve between Terlingua Creek and Davenport Draw. Both streams have contributed sediment in the past, and the deepest component consists of stratified Late Paleoindian (Early Holocene) occupations: sparse artifact scatters associated with rock-lined hearths or small earth ovens. An earlier occupation at about 10,400-11,080 cal BP lies about 2.3 to 2.5 m below the ground surface, with two rock-lined features, and five smaller rock-lined features dating about 8630-9535 cal BP are somewhat later. There are also two undated (but presumably Late Paleoindian) features that lack charcoal. As of 2016, at least 11 features had been found exposed in the walls of the recent arroyo that revealed the site, over a distance of about 24 meters (since then, three more have been found). There are also a few Middle and Late Holocene features exposed in more distant parts of the arroyo (Cloud et al. 2016:Fig. 6).
An extensive series of radiocarbon assays (chiefly on saltbush, mesquite, and creosote charcoal) ranging from 7934±25 to 9545±25 RCYBP places these Late Paleoindian occupations in the Early Holocene; Cloud et al. 2016:Table 2). These early occupations are buried by Allostratigraphic Unit 1, a thick deposit of clay loam that began accumulating sometime before 10,730 RCYBP and continued until the Middle Holocene. The Paleoindian deposits lie in a dark paleosol bracketed by two sheet gravel deposits (the lower one probably laid down by Terlingua Creek and the upper one by Davenport Draw; Cloud et al 2016:27). Allostratigraphic Units 2 (Middle to Late Holocene) and 3 (Late Holocene) overlie this unit. There is a series of global post-Younger Dryas cold events that punctuate the Early Holocene, but for the most part they do not seem to correspond to the Paleoindian occupations here, which follow the Preboreal Oscillation and precede the well-known 8200 cal cold event.
In July, 2013, I visited the site for several days with the auspices of the Center for Big Bend Studies, and with the assistance of Sam Cason (who did most of the work), collected a continuous column of matrix samples 60 cm wide and 2.74 m high from the southeast wall of the arroyo, immediately adjacent to the main excavation block (Fig. 2). The original plan was to collect samples in 5 cm increments, but the clay and silt-rich alluvium was so thoroughly indurated that this proved impossible, so the sampling interval was increased to 10 cm. Altogether 30 samples were collected (there are two extra samples because intervals were subdivided where stratigraphic breaks were crossed). The lowest sample cut only 10 cm into the lower gravel deposit (Fig. 2). This level is unassayed, but Andy Cloud (personal communication) estimates it dates to about 10,200 RCYBP, based on assays from the adjacent excavation block. Thus, the sample column documents the entire span of the Holocene (including the Late Paleoindian component), but presumably includes no Younger Dryas sediments.
In all, 465.6 kg (about half a ton) of sediment was collected. For the entire column, the mean sample size processed was 14.3 liters (range, 13-15 liters) and the mean analyzed weight was 15.05 kg; the total weight of sediment used in the analysis was 451 kg (a few samples had excess amounts). Samples were soaked overnight in tapwater, then passed through nested 18-inch geologic sieves with mesh sizes of 2 mm, 1 mm, and 0.5 mm. Residue from each grade was dried and bagged for picking. All snails, snail shell fragments, charcoal, seeds, animal bones, and possible microdebitage were saved and counted or weighed. After picking, the remaining residue was turned over to Brittney Gregory for heavy mineral separation studies at LSU.
Despite the fact that nearly half a ton of sediment was processed, only 843 specimens (many of them damaged or fragmentary) were recovered. This amounts to a density of only about two specimens per liter of sediment, compared to about 10-130 per liter from other sites in the eastern half of Texas where the same methods have been used. There are only four kinds of terrestrial snails: Succineidae, Gastrocopta pellucida, Helicodiscus singleyanus (= Lucilla singleyana), and Pupoides albilabris. The Succineidae are unidentified. Although succineids are usually considered to be wetland fringe inhabitants, there are perhaps a couple of borderland species (Succinea luteola and S. solastra) that are found in arid upland areas. Thus, it is not clear whether the succineids indicate wet or dry conditions (but perhaps the latter). There are only two kinds of aquatic snails: a planorbid, believed to be juvenile Planorbella trivolvis, and Physa sp., probably Physa acuta. A few examples of a third aquatic species, Gyraulus parvus, was not found in the sample column but was recovered in wet-screening by the field crew.
All of these snails are resilient habitat generalists, and all appear to be very arid-tolerant species (although the identity of the succineids is uncertain). Almost all the Succineidae, the Helicodiscus, and the aquatic snails are juveniles, hinting at high juvenile mortality. Generally speaking, the aquatic taxa are tolerant of sluggish, poorly oxygenated, warm water with high solute levels. All of the aquatic snails are confined to the bottom half of the column, disappearing in the upper gravel, just before the midpoint of the Holocene; otherwise, the same kinds of snails are found throughout the column, although fluctuating in abundance.
The Genevieve Lykes Duncan snail assemblage is characterized by low specimen density, low taxonomic diversity, apparently high juvenile mortality for many taxa, and a preponderance of arid-tolerant, resilient habitat generalists. When I began sampling this site, I expected to find lingering evidence of greater moisture conditions from the Younger Dryas at the base of the column. My expectation was that despite mounting aridification in the Early Holocene, one or two samples at the base of the column would yield greater numbers of snails, more diversity, and perhaps some taxa that are more moisture-dependant. This proved not to be the case. Instead, the snail assemblage suggests local conditions were already arid by the start of the Holocene. This is consistent with the saltbush, mesquite, and cholla identified in charcoal, and the Cheno-Ams, Artemisia, thistle, Asteraceae, and Ephedra identified in a pollen sample overlying Feature 1 (Cloud et al. 2016:55-56). My sampling stopped in the top of the lower gravel (a depositional event that might signal significant climatic reorganization), and if there is an assemblage adapted to wetter conditions, it must lie in the unsampled sediments under that gravel bed.
The Sayles Adobe site (41 VV 2239, Late Holocene, Val Verde County)
In May, 2016, I visited the Sayles Adobe site in Eagle Nest Canyon (Fig. 3) near Langtry. Eagle Nest Canyon is a narrow, deep, rock-floored canyon that drains southward into the Rio Grande, and two famous sites, Eagle Cave and Bonfire Shelter, lie farther upstream in the canyon. Sayles Adobe is a sandy terrace site that sits perched high (about 11 meters) above the canyon floor not far from the confluence with the Rio Grande. It sits at the foot of the talus slope descending from Skiles Shelter (41 VV 165) and may have served as an adjunct area during the occupation of that site. Tori Pagano, a Texas State University graduate student, has been excavating Sayles Adobe for her MA thesis in geoarcheology, and my report on the snails is to appear as an appendix in her thesis. Tori collected a discontinuous series of eight pilot samples for me from two separate excavation blocks, representing about a 2500-year span of the Late Holocene. Here, instead of a continuous column, the goal was simply to find out if microsnails were present in these sediments, and if so, what kind and in what quantity.
The thick package of alluvium at this site consists of sandy sediments derived from limestone terrain in the canyon watershed, along with some fine-grained sediments (including mud drapes) contributed by backflooding from the nearby Rio Grande. Two of the samples were box-shaped removals 20 cm thick (“borrow pit” block), and six were 22-42 cm in thickness (“sandbox” block; Fig. 4). The samples come from two separate excavation blocks and represent a maximum elevation difference of about 2.9 m. These samples cover about a 2500-year span of the Late Holocene, from about 3167 cal BP at the lowest sample to a point somewhat later than 675 cal BP for the uppermost sample (Tori Pagano, personal communication 2018). This uppermost sample, at about 1275 AD, occurs well into the Medieval Climatic Anomaly. Sedimentation rates were high at this site. An Early Holocene radiocarbon assay of 8236±34 RCYBP was obtained on guajillo charcoal from an auger test at a depth of 5.7 m, so there are sediments equivalent in age to the Lykes Duncan site, but no excavation or snail sampling has been done at this depth. Late Holocene sedimentation rates were evidently high at this site, so the unusually thick samples obtained (up to 42 cm) probably do not imply much time-averaging.
For the 8 pilot samples, average volume was 12.7 liters (range, 11.3-15.0). The processing methods used were the same as those at the Lykes Duncan site. From the 101.35 liters of sediment processed, only 559 specimens were recovered; almost 81% of these came from the 0.5 mm mesh sieve. Specimen density is fairly low, about 5.51 specimens per liter. This is much lower than the 15.7 specimens per liter at Bonfire Shelter, doubtless reflecting the much higher depositional rates at Sayles Adobe. Low specimen density could be a result of poor habitat quality, the diluting effect of rapid sediment deposition, or both.
The samples produced one adult Rabdotus (species indeterminate), three juveniles, and some spires of indeterminate age. Other than this, the snail fauna is very similar to that from Genevieve Lykes Duncan. The assemblage includes Gastrocopta pellucida adults and juveniles, Succineidae adults and (mostly) juveniles, Helicodiscus singleyanus (Lucilla singleyana) of indeterminate age, a few Pupoides albilabris adults, and perhaps two aquatic species: small, mostly juvenile snails tentatively identified as Gyraulus parvus (but with a somewhat anomalous shape), and two small planorbids that look different from Gyraulus (an embryo and a columellar fragment) and suggest the possibility of one or more different species.
Except for the presence of a few Rabdotus and the absence of Physa, this assemblage is much the same as that at Genevieve Lykes Duncan. The succineids are mostly very tiny embryos, and I suspect represent one of the two upland, arid-adapted species in the Succineidae family.
Overview: Snails in Dryland Alluvium
These two sites differ in many ways. Genevieve Lykes Duncan lies in an open, lowland basin at about 1180 meters, in sediments generated from igneous and metamorphic bedrock, and spans the entire Holocene, at the confluence of two meandering, unconstrained streams. Sayles Adobe lies in a narrow, rock-floored limestone canyon at 350 meters, partially sheltered from wind and insolation, with samples that are limited to the Late Holocene (although older but unsampled sediments are at the base), with sediments produced both by limestone bedrock terrain and by Rio Grande backflooding (although the there seems to be no particular evidence of a Rio Grande influence in the snail assemblage).
Annual precipitation is similar in the two areas, but it is distributed differently. At Langtry under the current climatic regime, it is about 37.26 cm/year (based on 1981-200 normals) with 32% occurring in the summer. There is no permanent weather station on the O2 Ranch, but average annual precipitation was about 36 cm in 1914-1928, and 42 cm in 2015-2016. May to October are the wettest months, with August the peak, and 44% of precipitation occurring in the summer months (June to August). Insolation rates are very high here and evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation for 11 out of every 12 months. Although the antiquity of the North American Monsoon system is not entirely certain, Genevieve Lykes Duncan participates in this system today, receiving Pacific moisture, often from convectional thunderstorms, mostly in the summer, when plant growth and snail activity are enhanced, but evaporation rates are higher. Sayles Adobe lies farther east and receives more moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, so its precipitation pattern is a hybrid of the West Texas monsoon pattern and the bimodal eastern Texas pattern of rainfall peaks in May and September. At Langtry, April-May and September-October are the rainiest months, but significant rainfall also occurs in June-August (Fig. 5).
Despite these differences, both sites have similar snail assemblages, characterized by low specimen density, a very limited range of resilient, arid-adapted taxa, and apparent high juvenile mortality in some of the species. Both assemblages seem to indicate arid, drought-prone (and probably variable) conditions that only resilient habitat generalists can tolerate. These findings raise an interesting question: if the fauna consists entirely of resilient habitat generalists, can we rely on it to register small-scale fluctuations in past climates? In faunal studies, it is often the rare, infrequent species with specialized habitat preferences that carry the most paleoenvironmental information payload. If none of these are present, can we rely on fluctuating specimen counts to indicate changing environmental conditions?
We probably need to apply the FRIN principle (Further Research Is Needed).
Cheatum, E. P.
1966 Report on Mollusk Shells Recovered From Four Archeological Sites in the Amistad Reservoir. Pages 227-243 in Dee Ann Story and Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr. (assemblers), A Preliminary Study of the Paleoecology of the Amistad Reservoir Area. Final Report of Research Under the Auspices of the National Science Foundation (GS-667).
Cloud, William A., Richard W. Walter, Charles D. Frederick and Robert Mallouf
2016 Late Paleoindian Occupations at the Genevieve Lykes Duncan Site, Brewster County, Texas. The Journal of Big Bend Studies 28:1-82. Center for Big Bend Studies, Alpine.
Manuscripts Resulting from This Research
Brown, Kenneth M.
n.d.a Analysis of a Column of Snail Samples from the Genevieve Lykes Duncan Site. Manuscript in progress, estimated length about 80 pages, to be published by the Center for Big Bend Studies.
n.d.b Appendix G: Pilot Sampling of the Snail Fauna at Sayles Adobe. Appendix to appear in
MA thesis (2019) by Victoria Pagano, Texas State University, estimated length about 25 pages.