Category Archives: Collections Highlights

Ancient Rock Art: TARL’s Trove of Historic Paintings and the Online Tools for Viewing Them

by Susan Dial

Above image: Forrest Kirkland’s watercolor depiction of the art at Rattlesnake Canyon in the Lower Pecos is one of the dozens  in TARL’s collections that have been scanned for viewing online on Texas Beyond History.

In 1933, artists Forrest and Lula Kirkland began a study of the extraordinary rock art of Texas. Working chiefly on weekend camping trips, the couple’s interest developed into a mission that was to span 10 years. Their epic journeys took them across much of the state, from the mountains of the Trans Pecos, to rocky bluffs along the clear streams of the Edwards Plateau, to the rugged canyonlands of the Lower Pecos.  Wherever prehistoric peoples had found a stone canvas for their expression, the Kirklands traveled to examine and document the artwork.  Early on, the two perfected the recording techniques that allowed them to capture the ancient pictographs and petroglyphs on canvas: Forrest carefully measured and sketched the art to scale in pencil, then adding water color to match the paintings on rock.  Lula, meanwhile, drove, scouted for sites, photographed the art, and performed many camp chores.

The dozens of watercolor paintings that emerged from this near-Herculean effort are preserved at TARL for researchers to examine and compare to the ancient art today. Because of the careful documentation techniques the Kirklands employed, these paintings—now over 80 years old—constitute a critical record of the ancient art and are treasures in themselves.  Much of the rock art observed and painted by Forrest Kirkland has since been damaged if not destroyed by natural forces and human vandals. Small details and even whole sections of paintings copied in the Kirkland watercolors no longer exist today.

The great majority of the Kirkland watercolor collection have been digitally scanned and is available for viewing on TARL’s website, Texas Beyond History, along with substantive discussion about the prehistoric and historic period painters and their cultures. Galleries of Kirkland’s renderings of the monumentally scaled Lower Pecos rock art can be viewed in detail at;  that of the surprisingly diminutive works at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos can be seen at  Further discussion is provided in a section on artistic expression of the Trans Pecos: and Lower Pecos Spanning at least 4,500 years, Texas’ ancient rock art paintings are a window into the spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions of the past.  At the other end of the spectrum, we can view through native artist’s  eyes the  coming of early Spanish explorers and priest and mull the cultural upheaval that lay in store at that long ago time.

Online galleries on Texas Beyond History enable viewers to view small details of Kirkland’s watercolor paintings, such as the tiny mask paintings at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos region.


Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell  County  includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.
Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell County includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.


Did You Know?

The first paintings done by Forrest Kirkland were of Paint Rock in central Texas.  Not knowing who to consult about them, the artist sent J. E. Pearce, then chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, black and white photographs of the paintings. Pearce was enthusiastic about Kirkland’s work and invited the Kirklands to visit him in Austin before archeologist A. T. Jackson left for a summer in the field. Jackson was then collecting data for his work on The Picture-Writing of Texas Indians and Pearce thought a meeting of the two men should be profitable for both.   Lula Kirkland wrote:

“We went down and showed him the original paintings and enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them. Mr. Jackson considered getting Forrest to go with him on field trips as an artist, to paint the pictographs. But we preferred to go out on our own during our vacations.”

From The Rock Art of Texas Indians by Forrest Kirkland and W. W. Newcomb, Jr. (University of Texas Press, reprinted edition 1999).




Research on the Horizon

Wilson-Leonard Remains to be Revisited

by Kerri Wilhelm

The remains of the individual discovered in Williamson County near Leander, TX are in the process of being assessed and re-examined by two University of Texas researchers who are also on faculty in the Anthropology department.  TARL has loaned the cranium to Dr. John Kappelman for research into whether new CT imaging technology and techniques can reveal more of the original anatomical orientation of the vault fragments which were brushed with an adhesive in situ to prevent any loss during recovery in the field.  The partially jacketed cranium, including the vault fragments, could potentially all be scanned using computerized tomography (CT) equipment and then reconstructed in software back into the orientation they would have occupied during the life of this archeologically significant individual.   Dr. Kappelman also came by TARL in the fall, with some of his undergraduate students in tow, to assess the state of preservation of the post-cranial material for  CT scanning.  It is our hope that digitizing this material will provide new data sets and anatomical information that can be utilized to increase our understanding of the physiology, physical and environmental stressors and any indicators of trauma and pathology endured by this Paleoindian young woman.  Further study will allow anthropologists like Dr. Kappelman to fit the Wilson-Leonard woman into the larger spectrum of the prehistoric-modern evolutionary timeline that will shed light on the origins of the first people in North America.

'Leanne' burial
One of the oldest and most complete human skeletons in the Western Hemisphere, the Wilson-Leonard burial known as “Leanne,” or the “Leanderthal Lady,” was found by TxDOT archeologists in 1982. A well-worn tool, used for grinding or chopping, and a limestone boulder—perhaps placed on the body as a marker or to secure a wrapping around the body—also were uncovered in the grave. Image courtesy of TBH.


Dovetailing with the loan of this important TARL collection is the potential for genetic analyses to be performed, should the state and manner of preservation support the requirements of this type of study.  Dr. Deborah Bolnick, genetic anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UT, will be meeting with me very soon to discuss the possibility and application of genetic testing of the Wilson-Leonard woman’s post cranial material.  Currently engaged in two other genetic investigations involving TARL collection materials, if testing is feasible, any resulting data could be used to contribute valuable information for research into the genetic origins of Paleo-Indians and the first inhabitants of Texas in particular.

These are just two of the research projects currently in discussion here at TARL.  Our collections, the breadth of cultural diversity and archeological depth of time represented in them,  makes them a good choice for researchers interested in investigating the numerous aspects of Texas archeology and history.  Please visit the Texas Beyond History virtual exhibits focusing on the Wilson-Leonard site and associated burial for more information about the significance of this site in Texas’ archeological record.

Check back with us regularly as we continue to post about the TARL collections being used in research, new and ongoing research projects and investigations, and highlights in the collections as we use artifacts to keep moving Texas history forward.



Caddo Connections at TARL

Research in the Collections

by Kerri Wilhelm

Dr. Timothy Perttula, owner and cultural resources director of Archeological & Environmental Consultants and author of both The Caddo Nation (1992) and Archaeology of the Caddo (2012), is accessing TARL’s vessel collection.  Citing it as one of the largest collections of intact prehistoric Caddo ceramic vessels, Dr. Perttula is documenting the vessels and their various stylistic and compositional design elements.  Aside from his visits to the TARL collections over the years, Dr. Perttula has also contributed to TARL’s virtual museum, Texas Beyond History, which presents the artifacts in their proper historical and archeological context.  Dr. Perttula wrote the Lake Naconiche Prehistory exhibit ( with contributions from Bob Wishoff.  He serves on the Smithsonian Institution’s Native American Repatriation Review Committee in addition to being an Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Anthropology Department at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.  Specializing in Caddo ceramics and East Texas archeology, Dr. Perttula is also the tribal archeological consultant to the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.  He has produced dozens of reports and publications and with TARL’s Head of Collections is engaged in coordinating the release of these valuable texts about the archeology of East Texas and Caddo archeology.

Efficiently documenting both the intact ceramic Caddo vessels, as well as the decorated sherds, Dr. Perttula is providing valuable new inventories of the materials excavated during the WPA era.  The documentation that he provides, in addition to his knowledgeable insights about the people who created these artifacts, will enrich our understanding of the Caddo, their history as a people and their continuing importance in the modern Texas cultural landscape.


Dr. Timothy Perttula.
Dr. Timothy Perttula.


Dr. Perttula's 2012 publication, The Archaeology of the Caddo.
Dr. Perttula’s 2012 publication, The Archaeology of the Caddo.


Dr. Perttula's most recent work, as a co-author of Caddo Connections, published in 2014.
Dr. Perttula’s most recent work, as a co-author of Caddo Connections, published in 2014.




Consulting with the Smithsonian

Curating the Navajo Sand Paintings

by Kerri Wilhelm

One of my duties here at TARL involves assisting with any of the numerous collections-based projects that may be going on at any given time.  Given the tiny size of our staff, we all wear many hats and have to pitch-in whenever and wherever as needed to ensure that proper care of the collections is being achieved.  Over the course of this past summer Diane Ruetz and I were faced with ensuring the care of TARL’s very large collection of Navajo sand paintings.  Recognizing that this is a significant collection of ethnographic art, a type of non-archeological collection we don’t specialize in here at TARL, Diane and I set about performing the documentation necessary to build what will become the permanent files for this collection.  It was during documentation that we recognized the fragile nature inherent to this particular art medium: some of the sands had experienced color fade and the adhesives used in the construction of the plywood and particle board backers were leeching aldehydes through the front canvases and discoloring the paintings in places.  Also, at least one of the sand paintings was showing signs of the sand exfoliating away from the canvas, a process we were keen to prevent.  Informal condition assessments revealed that these pieces of two-dimensional art were in need of several things: 1.  more protection from ambient UV and 2. an archival storage solution that would help mitigate acid migration in the backer materials and prevent any further damage associated with chemical and mechanical changes wrought by damaging particulates, pollutants and fluctuations in relative humidity.  Diane set about gathering the dimensions for the paintings with the intent of researching the costs of purchasing ‘blue board’ curation boxes and I photo-documented the paintings.  We began to plan our ‘boxing’ of the sand paintings.

While we awaited the arrival of the archival boxes from Gaylord and continued with the photo-documentation, I got in touch with a group of people who I knew would have dealt with this specific type of ethnographic art before: the collections staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.  I was put in touch with Victoria Cranner who was then the Acting Collections Manager at the NMAI at the Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, MD.  Victoria had some really helpful advice about they store their Navajo sand paintings and why.  She was kind enough to include photographs of the storage techniques used by the NMAI which I have included below.  Victoria’s (paraphrased) advice:

1.  best to lay them flat, if you happen to be blessed with the space to do so

2.  make boxes for them out of archival blue board, lined  with volara or ethafoam and make little bumpers out of foam backer rod

  1. if dust is a concern, make sure the box for the painting has a lid

4.  high temperatures could potentially loosen the fixatives originally used to adhere the sand, so store the sand paintings in an environmentally stable location (about 70®F and 48%RH)

5.   off-gassing (of the aldehydes in the particle board) is possible, but since these (sand paintings) were made in the 1970’s most of the gasses have probably dissipated

Below are images provided by Victoria Cranner of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian illustrating the storage of Navajo sand paintings at the Cultural Resource Center.






Victoria was a huge help in helping staff here at TARL identify the best means and manner in which to store our large collection of Navajo sand paintings.  Of course, placing the paintings into the boxes means that no one can see the beautiful artistry or enjoy the traditional Navajo chantway stories that are being told with the paintings.  It is the hope of staff here at TARL that we can locate a suitable institution interested in housing, and hopefully displaying, these beautiful works of art.  Below are images of our ongoing efforts to bring this collection up to current best standards in object curation.

  • Using one of our PEM2 envirrnmental loggers to monitor the climate in the room housing the paintings.
    Using one of our PEM2 envirrnmental loggers to monitor the climate in the room housing the paintings.
  • Since many of the paintings have large footprints, we had to carefully stack several of the larger boxes.  Since we didn't want people to have to open the boxes to determine catalog information, we adhered catalog cards with photographs to the exterior edge of the boxes to facilitate identification and inventory.
    Since many of the paintings have large footprints, we had to carefully stack several of the larger boxes. Since we didn’t want people to have to open the boxes to determine catalog information, we adhered catalog cards with photographs to the exterior edge of the boxes to facilitate identification and inventory.





The George C. Davis Site

by Marybeth Tomka

The George C. Davis Site, Dr. Dee Ann Story (photo below), and TARL all resonate with Texas archaeologists. The site was originally recorded by the father of UT archeology, J.E. Pearce and systematically excavated during the Works Progress Administration in 1939-1941. Dr. Story worked on this site through the 1960s and 1970s and it is now administrated by the Texas Historical Commission as a state historic site. Many years of UT student archeologists have had the experience of working with Dr. Story at the Davis Site, located along the El Camino Real where present day Texas Highway 21 runs between the ceremonial mounds. This ceremonial center was utilized between AD 780 and 1260 as determined through the analysis of radiocarbon, but has evidence of earlier Paleo-Indian and Archaic peoples as well.

People living and using what was to become Caddoan Mounds State Historic site grew corn, cultivated or gathered wild plants, and hunted the forests of East Texas for their subsistence. The Caddo at this site were known to have trade networks with bison hunters to the north and west, exchanged materials with the gulf coast and peoples in present day Arkansas. Georgetown flint was traded from central Texas; it is a highly knappable and attractive chert varying from sky blues to very dark grays or blacks. In case you are wondering archaeologists call “flint” chert for reasons that make geologists cringe!

The featured picture accompanying this blog (above) illustrates the Caddo craftsmanship in chipping stone tools, working exotic stones into celts or adzes, and axes, stringing hand-made shell beads as personal adornment, and lastly what sets them apart from all other Native Americans, the elaborately engraved, incised and burnished ceramics in a variety of forms, but most recognizable as the bottle pictured here.  For more information on the Caddo Peoples, including descriptions of their origin stories, languages and ceramic vessels, please visit and explore the Texas Beyond History Caddo Fundamentals website at:

The archeologist who excavated the anthropomorphic figure during his field school many years later married the woman who made of replica of the figure for exhibit?

Dr. Dee Ann Story in 1964.  Dee Ann served as the Director of TARL from 1965-1987.

Dr. Dee Ann Story in 1964. Dr. Story served as the Director of TARL from 1965-1987.