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.
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.
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).
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.
Perttula, T. K.
2013 Caddo Ceramics in East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 84:181-212.
Dr. D. Clark Wernecke is the Executive Director of the Gault School of Archeological Research. This article appeared in TARL’s newsletter in two parts. Part I was published in the July 2017 issue and Part II was published in the September 2017 issue.
James Edwin Pearce was a true renaissance man. Born in Roxboro, North Carolina in October of 1868, Pearce moved with his family to Hunt County, Texas in 1871 (Denton 2016). He graduated from the University of Texas (there was only one then) with a B.A. in Literature in 1894 and an M. A. the following year. He began doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, then switched his studies from history and sociology to anthropology, continuing to study intermittently while he began a 22-year long career as principal of Austin High School in Austin. He also studied for a year at the School of Anthropology in Paris in 1900. Pearce began teaching at the University of Texas in 1912 and became a full-time professor in 1917, and in 1919 became the department chair, changing the name of the department from Institutional History to
Anthropology (Denton 2016). He conducted some of the first professional archeological excavations in the state, fostered some of Texas’ up-and-coming archeologists, and was a champion for the discipline of anthropology and archeological research. Pearce was also the instigator and pushed for a State Museum in Austin in the late 1920s and did establish the first anthropology museum at UT (Tunnel 2000), contributed to the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society (Pearce 1932), patented a new kind of plow (patent #1,111,613), and was known as a grower of improved varieties of pecans (Bedichek 1928). One of J. E. Pearce’s most famous publications was Tales that Dead Men Tell, published in 1935 (Tunnell 2000).
Mr. Pearce was interested in the burned rock middens of central Texas and in October of 1929 he sent Henry Ramseur, his field foreman, and three laborers to the Gault farm to excavate the large midden there. He later described it in a nomination for National Park status as:
“One of the largest mounds of its kind in Texas. A portion of the mound has been excavated yielding an abundance of beautiful flint artifacts. Funds available do not permit complete excavation. The site is being destroyed by haphazard digging of landowner and others who dig the specimens for sale.” (Pearce 1934).
Pearce’s excavations lasted eight weeks in the fall of 1929 and it is possible Mr. Ramseur returned alone in March of 1930 (Barnard 1939). The crew excavated about a third of the midden by their account and recovered over 3,000 artifacts and two fragmentary human burials. The midden was hand-excavated by broadcast archaeological methods employing shovels as the primary excavation tool. This excavation strategy included a base line incorporating a “zero point” (site datum) laid out parallel to the long axis of the site. Along this baseline five to ten foot square units were established in a continuous row with workmen assigned to each square. They hand dug the trench in each square along the baseline running the length of the site where possible. The trench is estimated to between 1 and 1.5 meters (m) deep based on photographs of the work (Figure 2). The initial trench was just wide enough to allow an individual in the trench to carefully examine the contents of the wall opposite from the baseline. Cultural artifacts were handpicked from the one wall, and following that, the collected wall was knocked down into the bottom of the trench and those sediments were shoveled up and out and spread across the ground, where they would again be searched for artifacts.
The excavators worked away from the baseline and the digging progressed through the midden deposits. The in-situ artifacts removed from the walls were recorded as “low”, “medium”, or “high” according to their vertical position in the wall. Pearce described his methodology in detail in a “Handbook for Field Work in Archaeology” (Pearce Collection, n.d., Pearce Papers, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin). Following Pearce’s excavations, the trench evidently remained open for some time as attested to by the correspondence between James Pearce and Henry Gault held in TARL archives regarding backfilling. Mr. Gault filled the trenches for Professor Pearce in February of 1931.
In 1932 Mr. Pearce described the archaeology of the mounds he was excavating at the Gault site. He was convinced the “burnt rock mounds” of central Texas were “kitchen middens” that sometimes also held human burials. He thought he recognized three stratified cultures: “the lowest a crude pure hunter type, the middle a higher hunter type with a great multiplicity of flint implements but without the bow and with little if any horticulture, and the upper layer culture is essentially a hunter type.” (Pearce 1932:49). Mr. Pearce felt the highest strata, with flint tools, potsherds, and grinding stones, represented a cultural adaptation of people moving into central Texas from east Texas and gradually reverting to nomad
hunters. The Pearce excavations revealed a broad, dense burned rock midden that was at least 2 m thick and yielded mostly Archaic artifacts.
The only records of this work are a few photographs and two short reports to Dr. E. T. Miller, Director of the Fund for Research in the Social Sciences at the UT (Pearce 1930a, b). Although some artifacts were traded by Mr. Pearce during ensuing years, the remainder of the artifacts, numbering 3,332, and two human burials are housed today at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at UT in Austin. The artifacts recovered from the Gault site were identified by Mr. Pearce using one of 15 terms, with roughly two-thirds of the total identified as either spear or arrow heads. Some of the more unusual terms assigned to the recognized artifacts were “war club spikes” along with “hoe,” a “bone crusher,” and a “limestone ornament.” The Pearce collection was reexamined in 2004 for the first time since 1930 and reclassified and identified using modern terms and categories by Elton Prewitt, a renowned Texas projectile point analyst and longtime Texas archaeologist. This updated analysis identified 37 diagnostic projectile point types from Paleoindian Wilson points to Late Prehistoric Darl/Zephyr types with representative artifacts from all known cultural time periods in between. Statistically the Archaic point types clearly dominate the Pearce collections. In contrast, only one Wilson and no Clovis types were represented. Except for the projectile points, very few other specimens are time diagnostic although a Clovis blade was recognized. Other tool classes represented include bifaces, scrapers, unifaces, drills, gouges, choppers, adzes, modified flakes, and a few bone specimens that include awls, billets, and hammerstones. Ground stone is minimally represented by 10 manos and one metate.
As was the custom at the time J. E. Pearce traded artifacts collected from the Gault site as typical central Texas artifacts to other archaeologists and researchers in return for artifacts from their area. A small collection, for example, is in the Huntington Library in
California. He also traded 22 projectile points from the Gault site for some Caddoan pottery. J. Alden Mason of the University of Pennsylvania Museum visited Pearce during his “Texas and Southwest Expedition” (also known as the Hering Expedition). In a letter from October of 1929, Mason wrote he was “from Tuesday night until yesterday (Saturday) with Dr. Pearce at the University there. He took me to several of his excavations where I collected a few things and he promises us a good selection from his material in return for some of our publications” (A. Mason to H.H.F. Jayne, letter, 12 October 1929, Museum Texas Expedition papers, University Penn Museum). Seventy-eight lithic artifacts from Florence, Texas listed as coming from the “Dr. Pearce Mound” and “Henry Gault Mound” are in the University Penn Museum (curation lots 29-27-817 to 894) (Allessandro Pezzati, personal communication 2014).
In a 1934 preliminary survey that led to the National Park Service (NPS) Park, Parkway, and Recreational Area Study Act of 1936 the NPS asked for information on recreational and historical resources. Pearce was quick to write a recommendation for the “Gault Burnt Rock Mound” and noted that he regretted that funds were not available to completely excavate the site. We don’t know if he intended to revisit the Gault site as his dream of building a first class museum in Texas, the Texas Memorial Museum, finally came to fruition and in June of 1938 he was appointed the first director. James Edwin Pearce died on October 22, 1938.
Barnard, Helen, D.
1939 Early History of Research in Texas Archeology by the Department of Anthropology, and the history of the Anthropology Museum of the University
of Texas. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin.
2016 “They are Hauling off Bits of Texas”: James E. Pearce and the Effort to Establish a State Museum. Southwestern Historical Quarterly 120(2):146-161.
1928 Off-Sides. Interscholastic Leaguer. 12(4): 2. Austin, TX
Pearce, James E.
1930a Report to Director E.T. Miller, Fund for the Research in the Social Sciences, February 2, Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
1930b Report to Director E.T. Miller, Fund for the Research in the Social Sciences, November10, Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
1932 The Present Status of Texas Archeology. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society, 4:44-54.
1934 Response to National Park Service Archeological Survey. Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
2000 In Their Own Words: Stories from Some Pioneer Texas Archaeologists. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 71:1-146.
TARL is pleased to announce the publication of a new volume entitled Navajo Weavings with Ceremonial Themes: A Historical Overview of a Secular Art Form, by Rebecca M. Valette and Jean-Paul Valette, now available from Schiffer Publishing.
Although this volume is focused on woven textiles, the book also features images of several of the historic Navajo sandpaintings held in the TARL collections. These beautiful, high-resolution images show the detail and craftsmanship of the incredible sandpaintings, and can help readers understand the symbolism and history of this unique art form.
About the Book:
Featuring more than 500 photos and maps, this is the first comprehensive, research-based history of Navajo weavings with imagery inspired by tribal sacred practices. These Yei, Yeibichai, and sandpainting textiles have been the most sought after by collectors and the least studied by scholars. In spite of their iconography, they never served a ceremonial function. They were created by Navajo women at the instigation of traders, for sale to wealthy collectors willing to pay premium prices for their perceived spiritual symbolism. This book describes the historical and artistic development of the genre from its controversial emergence around 1900, to the 1920-1940 period of intense creativity, and concluding with the contemporary search for innovative patterns. Never-before-published weavings, detailed annotations, and an extensive bibliography make this an invaluable reference for scholars and collectors, and a fascinating exploration for all who are interested in the Southwest and its native cultures.
Laura Cruzada, Lee Reissig, and Marisol Espino are guest authors from the Texas Department of Transportation’s public archeology outreach program. This article is part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter.
On June 19th, 1865, the news that slaves were free finally reached Texas. Every year, communities gather to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in Texas. This Juneteenth, we highlight an exceptional story of freedom that is featured on Texas Beyond History.
Through archeological investigations, you can read about Duval, the once thriving community of freed African-American slaves. This community was located in what is now the interchange of Loop 1 and Parmer Lane in north Austin. When a highway extension was planned near the interchange in the 1980s, TxDOT archeologists utilized old maps, records, and an aerial photo from 1937 to identify the location of a historic farmstead.
In Duval, freed slaves Rubin and Elizabeth Hancock purchased farmland where they raised their five children. Elizabeth and Rubin Hancock were both born into slavery in the 1840s in Tennessee and Alabama, respectively. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Hancocks, along with Rubin’s three brothers, all belonged to Judge John Hancock, a unionist who fiercely opposed secession despite his reliance on slave labor. Judge Hancock was even removed from office after being elected to the state legislature in 1860 for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Rubin and his three brothers bought land north of Austin, possibly with the help of Judge Hancock. It was here that Elizabeth and Rubin established a productive community of African-American farmers complete with a church and school for their children. According to family members, Elizabeth and Rubin’s home was made of lumber, with two rooms under the main roof and a separate addition which contained the kitchen. Rubin’s granddaughter, Mable Walker Newton, remembers the two main rooms having large glass windows and wooden shutters. Water was hauled in from a well, cooking was done on a cast iron stove, and kerosene lanterns illuminated the log cabin. The family raised cows and pigs, grew cotton, and harvested a large garden. With the help of the A&NW railroad, beginning in 1881, surplus was transported and sold to local store owners in Austin.
The addition of the A&NW railroad also brought new families. The growing community came together at St. Stephen’s Missionary Baptist Church, where in addition to worship and other social gatherings, classes were taught. In the evenings, large social gatherings with neighbors, friends, and relatives could be expected. The children would find entertainment with marbles, baseball, and homemade cardboard dominoes. All of this was confirmed through intensive investigations and research, now available to the public on Texas Beyond History. The families of Duval achieved a level of success that most people of their time – African-American and Whites alike – did not. The Hancock brothers in particular were landowners and each worked their own farms. The brothers were all registered to vote, and each married and raised a family. While Elizabeth Hancock passed away in 1899, Rubin continued live and work on the farm into his sixties until his death in 1916. The Hancocks’ descendants continue to live in the Austin area today. Rubin’s three surviving children kept the farm until 1942 when the house was removed from the site.
By the time that TxDOT archeologists arrived to investigate the area, all that remained on the surface was a well, a chimney hearth, and sections of a fence and stone wall. Excavations at the farmstead revealed possible stone piers of the house, trash areas, along with scatters of artifacts. The 9,000+ artifacts provided archeologists with an idea of the farmstead layout and an insight in to day-to-day life on the farm. Excavated marbles show what sorts of games children enjoyed playing. Recovered items such as combs and buttons provide a visual of the local trends. A canine burial even lets it be known that people in Duval loved their furry companions just as much as modern Austinites. In addition to cultural remains, oral histories and archival information was gathered to better visualize the Hancock family and farm.
As TxDOT continues to work and build a safe and reliable transportation system, the Cultural Resources Management (CRM) program considers the impact of projects on archeological resources and historic properties like the Rubin Hancock Farmstead– resources we know can be important to communities across the state.
The bag from Horseshoe Ranch Cave, with its fascinating contents shown in order of their removal by analysts at the University of Texas in 1936 . Radiocarbon dated to ca. 4200 cal. B.P., during the time that the monumental Pecos River Style rock art began to flourish, the cache offers a rare–if enigmatic–glimpse into the traditions of Lower Pecos people. Reflecting both the mundane and sacred, the bag has been described as a hunter’s pouch and a medicine bundle. Photo by James Neely, TARL Archives.
Caches and burials connect us in a very personal way to past events and the traditions of ancient cultures. In 1936, archeologists from The University of Texas working in the arid Lower Pecos canyonlands of southwest Texas uncovered what they described as “a find of unusual interest”: a twined-fiber bag, filled with an array of objects, and still securely fastened after more than 4000 years. Recent studies of this TARL collection, including technical analyses of stone and bone tools and radiocarbon assays of plant remains, are helping to unlock some of its secrets. More than 80 years after its discovery, we are featuring this rare and little-known collection as a Spotlight feature on Texas Beyond History and rethinking its significance and meaning.
Learn more about this fascinating collection: http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/spotlights/hunterspouch/hunterspouch.html
This January, the UT Press released a landmark volume entitled The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin. This beautiful coffee-table volume, edited by Andrée Bober, highlights more than 80 collections of historical, artistic, and scientific objects held by the University. TARL is honored and delighted to have some of our most beautiful artifacts included in this publication.
Cat. No. 16SA48-209, Incised effigy on ground and polished quartz crystal from the Coral Snake Mound in Sabine Parish, Louisiana. Featured in The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin.
The Collections showcases only a small amount of the 170 million objects of significant cultural, historic, and scientific value owned by UT Austin—making the University the largest repository of these objects in the state and possibly in the U.S. Some of UT’s collections date as far back as 1883 when the university was founded. Materials from TARL highlighted in the volume include gorgeous lithic, ceramic, and perishable items, some of which date to 10,000 to 13,000 years ago.
Cat. No. 68, Corner-tang knife of grey chert, excavated by the University in 1974-75 at the Ernest Witte site in Austin County, Texas. Featured in The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin.
The inclusion of TARL materials in The Collections was made possible by the work of TARL Director Emeritus Darrell Creel and former TARL Head of Collections Laura Nightengale. Work on this massive volume began more than five years ago, and we are all gratified to see the realization of their labor of love.
The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin, now available from UT Press.
For more information about the book or to purchase a copy, please visit the UT Press website.
Last year, TARL received a grant from the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Preservation Trust Fund grant program to conduct a collection rehabilitation project on one of our oldest collections of archaeological material. For this project, TARL chose the collection from the Harrell Site, a fascinating site in North Texas that was excavated by the WPA in 1938-1939. This rehab project was designed to make sure that the site collection is preserved for many years to come, and catalogued in such a way that it can be studied by future researchers. The rehab efforts also served as a pilot project to establish effective and efficient rehab procedures for use on other collections here at TARL.
The Harrell Site excavation was one of the largest projects conducted by the North Texas WPA team. Sitting on bluffs above the Brazos River, the site included a massive midden and hearth feature, known as the “Great Midden,” as well as numerous smaller hearths and burials. Two main occupations, dating to the Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric periods, are seen at the site, with continued usage of the site in the intervening period suggested as well. The Harrell site is the namesake for the Harrell Point, a small arrow point, and was considered the type site for the Henrietta Focus by archaeologist Alex Krieger, who analyzed the site collection in 1945. Read more about the Harrell site excavations here.
Harrell Points and Thumbnail End Scrapers from the Harrell site.
The WPA excavations of the 1930s and 40s were conducted in partnership with UT, and many of the materials recovered were brought to the University back in the 1940’s. But, curation standards in 2015 are much different than they were 75 years ago! While our newer accessions are stored and catalogued using modern practices, many of our older collections are still stored in the same condition they have been in for 30 years, or 50 years, or longer.
Our grant from TPTF was a rare and important opportunity to dedicate resources and staff time to bringing these collections up to modern standards. Eventually we hope to apply what we’ve learned from this project to all of our older collections.
TARL’s Harrell site rehabilitation project consisted of three main components:
1. Digitizing, inventorying, and improving storage for all of the field notes, reports, maps, and other records associated with the Harrell site’s excavation and subsequent analysis;
2. Cataloguing, photographing, and repackaging all of the artifacts remaining in the Harrell site collection, and re-analyzing the human remains from the site; and,
3. Creating a searchable, state-of-the art database that contains all of the data relating to the site artifacts, features, and records.
Harrell site records before and after rehabilitation.
As a result of these rehab efforts, the 2,300+ artifacts that comprise the Harrell collection are now individually tagged and repackaged, and their storage conditions will ensure that they are safe for a much longer time. All the site records are organized, protected, and available for digital viewing. And, our database will make it simple to see what excavators found at the site, what we still have, and where to find every single artifact within TARL’s collections. This work has paved the way for future analysis of the Harrell site collection, and for our future rehab efforts on other collections.
Bone and shell tools from the Harrell site before and after rehabilitation.
Rehabilitating the Harrell collection has also been a valuable opportunity to revisit some of the past work that has been done on the site. The artifact assemblage plainly shows that many of the cultural practices inferred by Krieger and others were clearly present at the site: residents were grinding food with manos and metates, probably practicing s ome horticulture or agriculture, and utilizing the abundant mussels from the river as a major food source. Numerous projectile points of many sizes and types were used for hunting during both major occupation phases. Ceramic pipes and ochre indicate that ceremonial or ritual activity took place at the site, and intrusive burials suggest that the locations of earlier grave sites were preserved in cultural memory over some length of time.
TARL’s rehab work on the Harrell site collection has opened the door for future work on the site significant contributions to our understanding of North Texas in prehistory could be made by researchers:
• conducting usewear analysis of the stone tool collection,
• studying the assemblage in comparison to other sites, or
• close analysis of the ceramics, mussel shell, or bone artifacts.
These are just a few examples of the types of work that could be done using this collection. We hope that this work will spark interest in additional research on this site and other WPA-era collections housed here at TARL.
We hope to have a full report on our rehab work—including an online database with photos—available to the public through the TARL website very soon. We are extremely grateful to the THC for making this important work possible!
This richly detailed drawing from the Schild Ledger Book features two men, both carrying rattles and a fan and garbed in elaborate attire. Although a noted Plains Indian artist identified the figures as Kiowa dancers, the enigmatic German text written on the drawing reads, “Ollie Johnson daughter and grandson.” According to notes accompanying the ledger book when it was acquired by The University of Texas, Ollie Johnson was purported to be a Comanche woman who created the paintings. Labels such as these appear on most of the drawings, adding to the mystery of the book’s authorship. TARL Archives.
A new Spotlight feature on Texas Beyond History focuses on one of TARL’s most unusual collections. The Schild Ledger book comprises nearly 60 Plains Indian ledger drawings variously ascribed to the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche. Some are brilliant in color and detail, others mere pencil sketches that were never completed. Known as ledger drawings because of the paper on which they were drawn—typically ruled pages from account books acquired as a gift or through theft or trade—the art was created largely in the last third of the 19th century to portray heroic deeds, tribal traditions, and battles with U.S. soldiers and settlers as the Plains Indian way of life passed into history.
Much of what is known about the Schild Ledger Book raises questions—from the identity and tribal affiliation of the artist or artists who created the drawings, to the circumstances of the book coming into the possession of a purported Indian Agent from Fredericksburg, Texas, and ultimately to its being taken abroad to Germany. In this Spotlight feature, we consider clues and possible answers and provide an online gallery of prime examples from the collection for researchers to examine further.
Native peoples in Texas used a variety of instruments to create sounds and music throughout prehistory and into more recent times. Among TARL’s vast collections are a number of unusual artifacts likely used during rituals, ceremonies, and other events. Based on the contexts in which the instruments were found, many were used in burial rites. Ethnographic accounts provide additional insights about other circumstances in which similar instruments were played.
Crafted of wood, clay, bone, and other natural materials, the instruments’ design and construction provide clues to the powerful range of sounds they emitted. We can imagine the shrill notes of a flute or whistle, the eerily grating noise of a rasp, the quivering beats of a rattle, and hollow rhythms of a skin-covered drum. These otherworldly sounds accompanied shaman’s chants and set the pace for dancers and processionalists.
Engraved whooping crane whistle (top) and more than 350 black drum teeth found in a cluster within a small circular area. The teeth appear to have been confined within a circular container, such as a gourd, and may represent a rattle. These items were recovered from the grave of two juveniles at the Mitchell Ridge site.Photo by Robert Ricklis. TARL Collections. (Click to enlarge for more detail.)
Among the more fascinating music-related artifacts at TARL are 11 bird bone whistles excavated from Late Prehistoric and early Historic period burials at the Mitchell Ridge site near Galveston. All are made from the ulna, or lower wing bones, of the whooping crane (Grus Americana). The bones are hollow with very thin walls, making them good candidates for modification into wind instruments. Whistles have a single air hole, rather than several air holes, distinguishing them from flutes. According to archeologist Robert Ricklis, who investigated and reported on the site, several of the specimens have plugs of asphaltum, a natural tar-like substance emitted from oil seepages beneath the Gulf of Mexico, which partially cover and narrow the air holes. This feature served to control the air flow and cause the whistling sound when the instrument was blown. Four of the whistles are decorated with finely engraved lines in geometric patterns. Similarly engraved whistles made of whooping crane and heron ulna have been found in Louisiana.
Drawings of additional whooping crane ulna whistles from the Mitchell Ridge site showing the detailed geometric designs engraved on the bones. Image from Ricklis 1994 (Fig. 18).
These undecorated whooping crane whistles were placed in the grave of a young man, 18-20 years of age, at Mitchell Ridge. Note the rectangular air hole cut into each whistle. Photo by Bob Ricklis. TARL Collections.
Reed flute from the Perry Calk site, a rockshelter situated high above the Rio Grande in southwest Texas. Unlike whistles, flutes have more than one air hole. The cane-like common reed from which the instrument was made grows in abundance along streams and rivers and was used for a variety of purposes. Photo by Monica Trejo and Matt Peeples (AMIS 2794b). TARL Collections.
Artifacts interpreted as rattles are rarely found intact. In some cases, the enclosing container, such as a gourd, deteriorated over time, leaving only the rattle contents—small, regular items such as pebbles or clay balls that would have made an impressive sound when the container was shaken. Prime examples of this sort of extrapolated evidence come from the Mitchell Ridge site where four tight clusters of black drum teeth—interpreted as the contents of rattles—were found in burials. More rarely, rattles are recovered intact or nearly so. At the Caplen Mound cemetery site on the Bolivar Peninsula, a decorated turtle carapace was found laying in the burial of an infant. Drill holes in the shape of a “U” suggest the carapace served as a breast plate or rattle. The presence of several glass trade beads indicates the infant burial occurred in the early historic time period. At other south Texas burial sites such as Morhiss Mound, deer antlers and modified antler tips were found in burials, and these have been interpreted as rattles or tinklers, the latter perhaps appended to the clothing of the individual.
Tortoise shell rattle found in a child’s grave at Caplen Mound on the Bolivar Peninsula about 25 miles northeast of the present-day city of Galveston. The small shell, decorated with a series of drilled holes and containing several small pebbles, was found in the neck area of the child, and may have been worn suspended from a cord. TARL Archives.
This odd-looking clay bowl from a Franklin County Caddo site was crafted with four protruding hollow nodes containing small pebbles or clay pellets. When shaken, the bowl produces a rattling sound. Listen to the sound http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/tejas/images/rattle-bowl.wav. The bowl is Late Caddo (Fulton Aspect), ca. A.D 1400-1650. TARL Collections.
In addition to burial ceremonies, music and rhythmic sounds were important in other rituals. The Spanish priest Espinosa describes a healing ritual among the Caddo in which flutes and rasps were used. To cure a patient, according to his early 1700s account, they make a large fire and “provide flutes and a feather fan. The instruments [palillos-rasps] are manufactured [sticks] with notches resembling a snake’s rattle. This palillo placed in a hollow bone upon a skin makes a noise nothing less than devilish.”
According to Caddo tribal historians, numerous types of instruments—rattles, drums, and flutes—were played during rituals and dances, and some of these rich traditions continue today among peoples of the Caddo Nation.
Marked with a series of carefully incised parallel notches, hollow bones such as these have been described as “tally bones,” or counting devices. More likely, they were rasps used as musical or ceremonial instruments. They were recovered from the Harrell Site (41YN1) in north central Texas.
This notched rasping stick from Conejo Shelter in the Lower Pecos region is made of mesquite wood. Photo by Monica Trejo and Matt Peeples (AMIS 23549).
Other historic accounts mention the use of musical instruments in battle and in hunting rituals. During a 1690s battle between the Cacaxtle Indians and the Spanish in what is now south Texas, an elderly Indian woman played a flute throughout, perhaps to buoy the spirits of the Cacaxtle warriors. As recorded by Spanish historian Juan Bautista Chapa, at the end of the battle more than 100 Indians lay dead and another 70 were taken captive. Noted Swiss-American ethnographer Albert Gatschet recorded peyote ceremonies associated with deer hunting among the Rio Grande Comecrudos. This ceremony was accompanied by music from drums and rattles and dancing from elaborately dressed shamans. Achieving a trance state through repetitive music, which typically involved rattles and chanting, was an important component of shamanic ceremonies.
Musical instruments played an important role in the rituals and spiritual life of native groups in the past. Witness accounts such as these help bring to life some of the mute artifacts in TARL Collections and provide colorful insights into how some of these fascinating instruments may have been used.
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History frequently repeats itself, often with an ironic twist or two. Currently there is a minor furor brewing over a proposed “strip club” just blocks from Austin’s City Hall. As reported in a February 13, 2015, article in the Austin American-Statesman, several members of a downtown Austin alliance are protesting the plan, arguing that this sort of business is not part of the vision held for that area. But 125 years ago, this sort of business was not only a “vision” for downtown Austin, it was the norm.
What has now become Austin’s trendy warehouse district, the headquarters of the City Council, and high-rise offices of Computer Sciences Corporation was once known as “Guytown,” an infamous red-light district peopled with prostitutes and sprinkled with bars and saloons catering to city and state leaders, among other visitors. Extending roughly from Colorado and San Antonio Streets on the east and west, and 1st and 3rd Streets on the south and north, the area originally had been a genteel neighborhood in Austin’s core; by the 1870’s it had begun its descent into a notorious red light district.
In 1876, the Austin Daily Statesman reported that two women arrested for keeping a brothel threatened to expose several of their high-powered clients, among them city council members, legislators and businessmen whose patronage tacitly supported the operations. Although the area was a tinderbox for violence and drunken sprees, many other stories played out among those at the opposite end of the economic scale—the laundresses, blacksmiths, porters, maids, and others who lived and worked in Guy Town. Unlike today, affordable housing was not an issue; there were no restrictions on the size or upkeep of the wooden shanties and alley cribs in which many made their homes.
The growth of businesses such as Calcasieu Lumber Company, a gradual rise in industrial development, and a change in the city’s master plan in 1928 gradually changed the area and brought about the demise of Guytown. Seventy years later, another city plan, styled as a “smart growth initiative,” was to bring about a wholescale and radically upscale change in character for the district.
In advance of the new construction, archeological and archival research investigations were conducted by Hicks & Company over a five-city block area, including the lot that now holds the modern, copper-clad City Hall building. Prior to excavations, most of the extant buildings were razed from their lots, including the iconic Liberty Lunch. Spared from the wrecking ball was Schneider’s Store, now home to an upscale barbecue restaurant. Archeologists conducted only minor tests around the perimeter of that building, unlike the massive excavations on the other blocks.
TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis and I were part of the project. I ran the mobile laboratory headquartered on one of the blocks, while Jonathan worked on the complex series of excavations, which moved from block to block as each was completed. It was a massive undertaking led by Project Archeologist Rachel Feit and Principal Investigator James Karbula. I was amazed at the variety of artifacts that flowed daily into our small trailer lab—and the provocative and often poignant activities the items reflected. Along with the remains of champagne and beer bottles, gaming tokens, bullets, and “hygiene” equipment for the prostitutes came pieces of china dolls and children’s toys.
Thousands of artifacts were recovered, quickly classified, counted, and logged into our mobile laboratory computer. The great majority—sherds of glass, rusted metal bits, and other unidentifiable materials that clearly had been mass produced and held no diagnostic value, were buried on the site, as part of a policy arrangement with the Texas Historical Commission. The most significant (or diagnostic) artifacts are now curated in TARL Collections, along with the maps, records, and photos accruing from the investigations. It is a collection that holds enormous potential for researchers and students interested in urban archeology and demographic change.