Category Archives: Projects & Research

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

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

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

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

Pamela Hanson and Dr. Christine Jones.

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

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

McKinney Falls State Park is a hidden gem just 20-minutes from downtown Austin. The sparkling waters of Onion Creek provide relief to park visitors from the hot Texas sun and offer recreational opportunities such as swimming and fishing. Prehistorically, people depended upon the creek and its many resources to survive. Evidence of their occupation can be seen through artifacts left behind at the Smith Rockshelter (41VV42). Excavated by Dee Ann (Suhm) Story in the 1950s, the Smith Rockshelter at McKinney Falls State Park gives park visitors a glimpse of how early inhabitants of Central Texas lived. In an effort to provide a hands-on learning experience, Park Interpreter Kristen Williams and TPWD Regional Archeologist Luis Alvarado plan to have replicas of several diagnostic artifacts cast. These artifact replicas will be used for outreach activities related to the shelter and Central Texas Archeology in general. Kristen and Luis, along with TPWD Archeologist Marni Francell and AmeriCorps member Jamie Gillis, visited TARL to see the Smith Rockshelter collection and to discuss loan options for replication.

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

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

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

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

LiDAR Data Processing for Planet Texas 2050 by Aaron Groth

Aaron Groth is a graduate student in UT’s geography department and a part-time contractor for TARL. This article is part of the September 2018 TARL Newsletter. 

Planet Texas 2050 brings together a multi-disciplinary team of UT researchers to examine issues of sustainability in the state of Texas. Research centers upon urbanization, water, energy, and ecosystem services (e.g., pollination, shade, water filtration, natural carbon sequestration) in the context of a changing climate and increasingly severe weather (e.g., hurricanes and droughts). Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing technology can help researchers assess issues of sustainability – looking at past landscapes and human modification to model the future.

An important emerging technology is Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with a pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor (mounted on aircraft). Differences in laser return times and wave-lengths can then be used to make digital 3-D representation, or “point cloud,” of the target (e.g., vegetation, buildings, and infrastructure, etc.).This data also serves to make 2-D digital elevation models (DEMs) showing detailed topography. DEMs derived from LiDAR available in Texas are at a 50x50cm to 1.5×1.5m spatial resolution. This is far superior to NASA/METI’s
DEMs, which provide a spatial resolution of only 30x30m. LiDAR is an important tool in archaeological research – for example, it has revealed ancient Maya cities and human landscape modifications under the forest canopy of Central America. Furthermore, when there are multiple, time-series LiDAR datasets for an area, it constitutes an important tool for earth and ecosystem sciences – revealing changes in the biophysical environment (loss of glacier mass, changing streambanks, loss of leaves, etc.).

Figure 1. Statewide LiDAR coverage available through TARL’s Planet Texas 2050 partnership.

At TARL, we are building a database of Texas’ available LiDAR data to further archaeological, earth science, and ecology research. Specifically, this database will give Planet Texas 2050 researchers the data they need to answer research questions surrounding the sustainability of population growth and urbanization, water and energy resources, and ecosystem services in the context of a changing climate.

Figure 2. The Austin area as seen through a LiDAR DEM at 140×140 cm spatial resolution. Major buildings, roads, rivers and streams are visible at this resolution.
Figure 3. A zoomed-out view of the Austin area as seen through a NASA/ METI DEM, at a resolution of 30×30 m. Major landscape features such as rivers and hills are visible but manmade landscape modifications are nearly impossible to see at this

Ancestral Caddo Ceramic Vessels from Titus Phase Sites in East Texas by Timothy K. Perttula

Timothy K. Perttula is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of the September 2018 TARL Newsletter. 

For several months this year, I have been focused on the study of ancestral Caddo ceramic vessels in the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin whole vessel collections from 20 different Titus phase sites, dating generally from ca. A.D. 1430-1680, in Camp, Franklin, Harrison, Marion, Morris, Titus, and Upshur counties in East Texas (Figure 1). The purpose of this vessel documentation has been to obtain new but comparable vessel attribute data for use in the East Texas and larger Caddo area vessel databases, since the vessels of interest had not been examined and documented in full detail before the vessel documentation I am completing. Furthermore, the vessel metadata and figures are to be included in a Caddo vessel gallery website currently under construction by Dr. Robert Z. Selden, Jr. (Center for Regional Heritage Research, Stephen F. Austin State University).

Figure 1. Location of selected Titus phase components with ceramic vessel assemblages in the Big Cypress Creek and Sulphur River basins in East Texas. Figure prepared by Brian Wootan.

The ca. 900 ceramic vessels are from different Titus phase sites in the Big Cypress Creek and Sulphur River drainage basins in East Texas. Almost all of the sites were investigated by archaeologists from the University of Texas (UT) in the early 1930s, led by A. T. Jackson, Field Foreman. At that time, UT archaeologists were interested in amassing a material culture record of the aboriginal peoples that lived in the region before Anglo-Americans began to settle in East Texas in the early 19th century, and their particular focus was on the sites and cemeteries established by ancestral Caddo peoples, and their associated artifacts and features. This led to the investigation of a number of Caddo cemeteries and the recovery of numerous funerary offerings, most notably ceramic vessels of many types and forms. Titus phase cemeteries are especially common in the Big Cypress Creek basin, and UT archaeologists investigated a number of them in the 1930s.

Figure 2a. Compound vessel from Titus phase: Taylor Engraved, Vessel 65, Joe Justiss site (41MX2).

The ceramic vessel assemblages from Titus phase sites in East Texas have been the subject of considerable scrutiny by Texas archaeologists since the 1950s, beginning with the development of the typology of Caddo ceramics by Dee Ann Suhm, Alex D. Krieger, and Edward B. Jelks, Robert L. Turner’s ground-breaking studies of the cemetery at the Tuck Carpenter site (41CP5), and then the recognition of the many varieties of Ripley Engraved, the most common Titus phase fine ware, by J. Peter Thurmond. This has been followed in recent years by detailed documentation studies of assemblages and collections from disparate parts of the Titus phase area, to a myriad of other research studies today that are concerned with stylistic, functional, iconographic, mortuary, and social network issues and themes. In my work, the principal concern is the detailed documentation of Titus phase vessels, including several of very distinctive form and decoration (Figure 2a-b) from less well-known mortuary assemblages held in the TARL collections. The hope is that the detailed analyses of these Titus phase ceramic vessel assemblages in East Texas will be of use in continued studies of the social and political organization of Titus phase settlements and communities in East Texas.

Figure 2b. Compound vessel from Titus phase: Hodges Engraved, Vessel 218, J. M. Riley site (41UR2).

WPA Highland Lakes Records Update by Annie Riegert

Annie Riegert is a Curatorial Technician at TARL. This article is part of the June 2018 TARL newsletter.

An ongoing digitization and records inventory project is underway at TARL. Under a 2017-2018 Texas Preservation Trust Fund (TPTF) grant, the project targets excavation and survey reports conducted in the late 1930’s as a subset of the larger Works Projects Administration (WPA) project. In the wake of the Great Depression and much needed employment, the program offered jobs on public works projects including archaeological survey and excavation throughout the country. Today, we are working on archiving the product of the WPA survey and excavation in Highland Lakes Area with a focus on Lakes Austin, Buchanan, and Travis. Further artifact analysis was conducted by the University of Texas in the 1960’s. Interest in the WPA project has produced many reports and analyses in various forms including records on microfilm. A database, which willhouse all excavation and survey data, will facilitate a more robust understanding of the extent of the WPA project in our local area. Additionally, digitization will enable greater access to records while also ensuring long term document preservation. We are looking forward to sharing the finished project for further research into the history of archaeology in central Texas.

Archive document depicting stone tools found at a WPA site in Travis County.

Goodbye to Flash! Changes Underway for Texas Beyond History by Susan Dial and Steve Black

As many of you know, we have been hard at work for the last two years with UT’s Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) trying to bring our 17-year-old website, Texas Beyond History, into the 21st Century. We are happy to report that this complicated “makeover” is nearly complete and promises both esthetic and functional improvements. The project transforms our main entry portals as well as educational activities and interactive graphics originally programmed in Adobe Flash into a more modern technology accessible on many more platforms. This will allow viewers –whether in the classroom or in the field–to use tablets and, to a lesser extent, cell phones, to engage in TBH’s interactive learning activities, open interactive charts and maps, and fully utilize the resources of the website. TBH will have a fresh, new look but more importantly should function more smoothly.

Website technology has advanced exponentially since the founding of TBH in 2001, when Steve and I, along with student website developer Meg Kemp, unveiled the website and the first 20 site exhibits. At the time, we were excited to offer many interactive features for maps, graphics, and student learning activities using Flash technology. The “cat’s meow” for its time, this program provided exciting tools to incorporate animation and other interactive capabilities in maps and graphics (e.g. opening up stratigraphic layers in a profile map). Unfortunately, Flash is no longer being supported by many browsers and has been dropped altogether by Apple and some newer Android devices. Viewers who use Apple products, particularly iPads and Mac books, may have been encountering blank pages where our traditional TBH interactive maps and Kids Only revolving carousel should be.

As further complication, TBH was designed for “mousing” on a desktop or laptop, before touchpad navigation came into vogue. Many of our interactive scenes where users “mouse over and click” on segments of paintings to access more detailed information and site-specific photos of evidence (ie., Frank Weir’s remarkable painting of a prehistoric burial scene from Loma Sandia cemetery) cannot be utilized on these devices. As might be anticipated, this is a particularly critical problem in the classroom, and for K-12 teachers in particular, as schools increasingly are providing individual tablets for student use. For LAITS, the process has been especially challenging due to the volume of Flash content on TBH and markedly different formats in each of the Flash activities. There has been no “one size fits all” solution to reprogramming this content. Over the last year, however, LAITS web developers engineered a process to strip out content and imagery and then recreate the 40+ interactives using HTML5.

Along with the technical changes, there also will be a new look for TBH. Instead of the interactive Texas sites map, TBH will soon have a colorful and streamlined portal for accessing all of the website sections. (A revamped version of the familiar TBH map page will be accessible in a section called Site Explorer and made functional for all browsers.)

Rollout of our revamped website is slated for sometime this Fall (2018). This is particularly important because TBH is heavily used in university archeology classes as well as in 4th and 7th-grade classrooms. We continue to receive emails from Social Studies teachers who have been stymied by the non-working Flash activities, but are anxious to once again use educational interactives such as “Through the Eyes of the Explorer: Cabeza de Vaca on the South Texas Plains.” Older students (even university students, according to Texas A&M professor Alston Thoms,) have used the kids Flash activity “Stratification in Action!” to better understand complex stratigraphic processes such as that which occurred over thousands of years on the Medina River at the Richard Beene site, on which the activity is based.

This summer (with Steve back at TARL just in time for the TBH review process!) we will continue testing the updated website, checking new functions, and kicking the tires, so to speak. It is a painstaking process with numerous technological bugs lurking in the 60,000+ files that comprise TBH. Fortunately TBH Associate Editor Heather Smith and Education Advisor Carol Schlenk have been able to join in the effort. While change can be difficult (if not agonizing), we at TBH are determined to embrace the opportunity to usher this much loved and critically acclaimed public education website into the modern era. We are grateful for the time and dedicated efforts of the LAITS staff and student technical assistants.

And as for what lies beyond the website revamp process, Steve is already at work creating new plans and a vision of the future for TBH. Stay tuned!

Archeomalacology in Texas by Ken Brown

Ken Brown is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of the June 2018 TARL newsletter.

Much of my research over the past couple of decades has focused on reconstructing Texas paleoenvironments by studying snails and sphaeriid clams. Snails are very moisture-sensitive, and most of the state (except east Texas) doesn’t have acid soils, so the shells usually preserve well, except where groundwater or shrink-swell processes have been active. If proper sampling is done, enough specimens can often be recovered to allow some rudimentary quantitative methods to be applied. Although snails are not especially temperature-sensitive, they make good paleo-moisture proxies, and because vegetation and moisture are correlated, snails can also hint at past vegetative cover. Aquatic snails are especially diagnostic of past hydrologic conditions. Some species can tolerate hot, stagnant, poorly oxygenated water with high solute levels, and others require cool, well-oxygenated, fresh flowing water, so an aquatic assemblage can tell us a lot about past stream conditions. Snails are sessile animals with short lifespans, which means that individual field samples capture paleoenvironmental profiles that are restricted in time and space.

Proper sampling means fine-mesh wet-sieving of fairly large samples and picking of whatever shows up, including shell fragments and juveniles. I use a standard nested set of oversize brass geologic sieves (18 inch diameter; Fig. 1). Mesh sizes are #10 (2 mm), #18 (1 mm), and #35 (0.5 mm). The British were the earliest proponents of this kind of research, and they often use one-liter samples, perhaps modeling their sampling methods after those of pollen analysts. But England is a wet place replete with snails, and while one-liter samples may be adequate there, Texas is a lot drier, so my target sample size is usually about 12-15 liters. There are perhaps 185 or so species of terrestrial snails native to Texas, and recent research suggests there might be another 60 or so aquatic species. Many of these (perhaps as many as 60% for terrestrial species?) are too small to be captured on quarter-inch archeological field screens. Most or nearly all the juveniles will fall through standard field screens, even for the larger species, so fine mesh sampling is essential if the complete spectrum of species is to be recovered.

Figure 1. Nested geologic sieves used for sampling snails.

For paleoenvironmental studies, I’ll try to collect a few pilot samples first to find out if snails are preserved at all, what condition they’re in, and how abundant they are. If the site looks promising, I’ll try to collect a continuous column of samples from a representative profile, perhaps in 10 cm vertical increments. To get the required 15 liters from a 5 cm thick sample requires a column about 60-80 cm wide, which is much more extensive than the usual pollen sample column. I try to avoid sampling features, since by definition features are places with extensive human disturbance, but for some reason many of the snail samples reported in the literature (for example, Wilson-Leonard) have come from cultural features.

In the field, I measure out 15 liters of sediment, plus a little extra allowing for shrinkage, bag it in sandbags, and return it to TARL, where it is weighed and the volume re-measured after drying. Then the 15-liter sample is soaked in tapwater overnight (with dispersant if clay-rich) and wet-sieved through nested sieves. Small specimens are identified with a binocular microscope at low magnification (usually no more than 10X). Shell fragments are also saved and weighed, because recovering fragments is the only way to estimate how many fragments have been lost to breakage. Juveniles are tabulated separately and identified if possible. Snails are much like vertebrates, in that individuals often don’t develop species-diagnostic characters until adulthood is reached, so sometimes juveniles can only be identified to the family or genus level. On the other hand, if there is only one species in a genus present at a site, it is sometimes possible to assume that all the juveniles are representatives of the same species. For example if the only adult Gastrocopta found at a site are Gastrocopta pellucida, it is probably safe to assume that any juvenile Gastrocopta belong to that same species. If juveniles can be identified, adult/juvenile ratios can be computed. This will tell us something about juvenile mortality, which is linked to environmental conditions. High juvenile mortality probably means severe water stress, although fecundity can also be an evolutionary adaptation to living in stressful habitats.

Most of the formal archeomalacological studies in Texas (those involving extensive fine sieving of sediments) have been done east of the 98º longitude line, or in other words east of the 32-inch annual precipitation isohyet, in the better watered part of the state. I’ve done studies at the Berger Bluff, Vara Daniel, and Fish Creek Slough sites, and other researchers have done studies at the Aubrey, Wilson-Leonard, Richard Beene, and various other sites. There have been a few studies in the Texas Panhandle and High Plains, at Lubbock Lake, Lake Theo, and at Mackenzie Reservoir (species lists with no specimen counts or sample volume given are provided for the Rex Rodgers and Snail Bed sites). Species lists are available for the Plainview site and several other sites on the High Plains (Neck 1995), but again, specimen counts and sample volumes are not given. At least one site (41CC112; Treece 1992:Table 15) in west-central Texas has been reported.

The northeast and southwest quadrants of Texas, on the other hand, are a blank slate. The archeomalacology of East Texas remains completely unknown. The acidic, sandy soils and constant saturation with phreatic water are hostile to shell preservation. Indeed, I would speculate that there may be some calcium-poor areas in East Texas where even living populations are absent today.

The southwest quadrant of Texas is mostly unexplored. One of the earliest archeomalacological 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; intrasite provenience is reported only by stratum. Thus, we are left only with a laundry list of species. More recent studies at Bonfire and Skyline Shelter provide quantitative data, but both of these sites are rockshelters, and the Lower Pecos remains understudied.

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 Big Bend is truly a blank slate. The potential of the driest two-thirds of Texas for these studies is largely unknown. Pierce (1987) recovered large numbers of specimens at Lubbock Lake, but most of these came from bedload gravels or cross-bedded sand in Stratum 1. The research potential of alluvial terrace deposits in west Texas has been largely unknown. Cheatum’s faunal lists from Devil’s Mouth, and Devil’s Rockshelter offer promise, but without specimen counts, their productivity is unclear. We know that snails are moisture-seeking organisms, and we know that they are most abundant and diverse in the wettest parts of Texas, but how well do they function as paleoenvironmental proxies in the driest parts of the state?

Figure 2. Site locations in Brewster and Val Verde Co.

In July, 2013, I visited the Genevieve Lykes Duncan site (41BS2615), a stratified Paleoindian site on the O2 Ranch, near the confluence of Terlingua Creek and Davenport Draw in Brewster County, and collected a continuous column spanning the entire Holocene. In May, 2016, I visited the Sayles Adobe site (41VV2239), a high terrace site in Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry. Tori Pagano collected a discontinuous series of eight pilot samples for me, from sandy sediments representing about a 2500-year span of the Late Holocene. I have now processed and analyzed the samples from both of these sites (Fig. 2), and in future issues of this newsletter, I hope to summarize what I’ve learned.

References Cited

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).

Neck, Raymond W.
1995 Molluscan Remains. Pages 59-67 in Vance T. Holliday, Stratigraphy and Paleoenvironments of Late Quaternary Valley Fills on the Southern High Plains. Geological Society of America, Memoir 186.

Pierce, Harold G.
1987 The Gastropods, with Notes on Other Invertebrates. Chapter 6 (pages 41-48) in Eileen Johnson (ed.), Lubbock Lake. Late Quaternary Studies on the Southern High Plains. Texas A&M University Press.

Treece, Abby C.
1992 A Study of Five Annular Burned Rock Middens from the O.H. Ivie Reservoir, West Central Texas. Unpublished MA thesis, University of Texas at Austin.

Identification of an Unusual Mineral Telltale in a Leon Plain Sherd from the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas by David Glen Robinson

David Glen Robinson is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of the June 2018 TARL Newsletter.   

Recent ceramic petrographic work at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) has identified an unusual tempering material in a sherd of Leon Plain pottery from the Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area in Bandera County, Texas. In petrographic work performed on a sherd of Leon Plain for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department under the supervision of Aina Dodge, the author identified the mineral olivine. The mineral was a co-temper with the more usual bone temper common in Leon Plain ceramics.

Olivine is an igneous mineral forming deep within volcanic vents or channels. It is considered an intrusive mineral and a component of basic, granular volcanic rocks such as gabbros. At the earth’s surface, olivine and other intrusives erode relatively rapidly, thus they are somewhat rare in surface deposits and not widely distributed. In hand samples, or gem forms, olivine is olive green, hence the name, and has vitreous luster.

The microphotographs presented here are all from the subject sherd, BN266, designated from its site, 41BN266. All the photos are taken in cross-polarized light, or xpl. This was done to show the array of distinctive colors of various specimens of olivine in the sherd matrix.

Given the rarity of olivine, the likely production locale of the pottery was several score miles northeast of 41BN266 on the Llano Uplift, where intrusive rocks were brought to the surface during the uplift events. An alternative source for intrusives is in the Big Bend and Marfa volcanic regions hundreds of miles to the southwest of Bandera County. More specific estimates of the sherd’s resource/production locality are not feasible at this time.

Figures 1-4.Microscopic petrographic images of olivine mineral temper identified in Leon Plain pottery from 41BN266.


The ceramic petrography on the 41BN266 sherd was sponsored by TPWD and supervised by Aina Dodge. Timothy K. Perttula served asthe ceramic consultant to the project. Their guidance is gratefully acknowledged.

Marine Shell Gorgets from Ancestral Caddo Sites in the Southern Caddo Area by Timothy K. Perttula

Timothy K. Perttula is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of the June 2018 TARL Newsletter.   

Plain and engraved gorgets are rare occurrences on ancestral Caddo sites in the southern Caddo area, as they have been found in burial features at only 13 sites in Southwest Arkansas, Northwest Louisiana, southeastern Oklahoma, and East Texas (Table 1). These include 12 plain and 28 engraved gorgets, and the engraved gorgets have a number of different styles as defined by Brain and Phillips (1996). A number of these gorgets are in the collections of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin, and I have documented them as part of the recent study of a 15th-16th century engraved gorget from the Pipe site (41AN67) in the holdings of the Gregg County Historical Museum in Longview, Texas.

Fifty-five percent of the gorgets (and 57 percent of the engraved gorgets) from southern Caddo sites are from Middle Caddo period Sanders phase burial features in the East Mound at the T. M. Sanders site (Figure 1), and no other site has more than three gorgets (see Table 1). The gorgets occur in Middle Caddo (ca. A.D. 1200-1400, n=22) (Figure 2), Late Caddo (ca. A.D. 1400-1680, n=16) (Figure 3), and Historic Caddo (ca. A.D. 1680-1800, n=2) burial features (see Table 1).

Figure 1. Engraved turkey gorget in Burial 20 at the T. M. Sanders site (41LR2) in the Red River basin.
Figure 2. Plain gorget from the Jess
Alford site (41HP5) in the South Sulphur River basin.

More than 77 percent of the plain and engraved gorgets from the southern Caddo area are from burial features in Middle and Late Caddo period mound centers on the Red River, and approximately 83 percent of the southern Caddo area sample come from burial features on Red River valley sites. The remainder of the gorgets are from sites in the Ouachita (n=1), Little (n=1), Sulphur (n=1), Sabine (n=2), and Neches (n=2) river basins in southwest Arkansas, southeastern Oklahoma, and East Texas. The gorgets in sites in the Sulphur, Sabine, and Neches river basins in East Texas are from non-mound burial features.

Figure 3. Triskele style engraved gorget in Burial 19 at the Paul Mitchell site (41BW4) in the Red River basin.

Although rare, the clear association of marine shell gorgets with ancestral Caddo burial features (typically the burials of adult
males) found at mound centers is indicative of the display of marine shell jewelry as a prestige good (Deter-Wolf and Peres
2015:179). Such goods were restricted to the use (in life and at death) of the Caddo social elite living at these mound centers,
as they (a) signified and enabled access to supernatural powers and ritual knowledge by the wearer of the gorget, (b)
legitimized political power in communities both local and regional through the acquiring and display of symbolic materials
with high value social currency, and (c) sanctified claims to ancestral Caddo origins, landscapes, and landmarks (cf. Deter-Wolf
and Peres 2015:170; Marquardt and Kozuch 2016:23). The iconography present on marine shell gorgets on Caddo sites
warrants detailed consideration, therefore, because it reflects belief systems of different Caddo groups, as well as the social
relationships between different Caddo groups as well as more far-flung Mississippian groups (see Brain and Phillips 1996).

References Cited

Bell, R. E. and D. A. Baerreis
1951 A Survey of Oklahoma Archaeology. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society 22:7-100.

Brain, J. P. and P. Phillips
1996 Shell Gorgets: Styles of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Southeast. Peabody Museum Press, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge.

Deter-Wolf, A. and T. M. Peres
2015 Embedded: Five Thousand Years of Shell Symbolism in the Southeast. In Trends and Traditions in Southeastern Zooarchaeology, edited by T. M. Peres, pp. 161-185. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Etchieson, M.
1981 A Shell Gorget from the Kirkham Site. The Arkansas Archeologist 22:1-3.

Harris, R. K., I. M. Harris, J. C. Blaine, and J. Blaine
1965 A Preliminary Archeological and Documentary Study of the Womack Site, Lamar County, Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 36:287-365.

Jackson, A. T.
1934 Jess Alford Plantation on old channel of South Sulphur River 2 ½ miles North of Nelta and 18 ½ Miles Northeast of Sulphur Springs, Hopkins Co., Trenched July 16, 1934 to July 17, 1934. MS on file, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.

Jackson, A. T., M. S. Goldstein, and A. D. Krieger
2000 The 1931 Excavations at the Sanders Site, Lamar County, Texas: Notes on the Fieldwork, Human Osteology, and Ceramics. Archival Series 2. Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.

Krieger, A. D.
1946 Culture Complexes and Chronology in Northern Texas, with Extensions of Puebloan Datings to the Mississippi Valley. Publication No. 4640. The University of Texas, Austin.

Marquardt, W. H. and L. Kozuch
2016 The Lightning Whelk: An Enduring Icon of Southeastern Native American Spirituality. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 42:1-26.

Moore, C. B.
1912 Some Aboriginal Sites on Red River. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 14(4):526-636.

Perino, G.
1981 Archeological Investigations at the Roden Site (MC-215), McCurtain County, Oklahoma. Potsherd Press No. 1. Museum of the Red River, Idabel.

Perttula, T. K.
2011 The Pipe Site, a Late Caddo Site at Lake Palestine in Anderson County, Texas. Journal of Northeast Texas Archaeology 35:47-80.
2014 The Mitchell Site (41BW4): An Ancestral Caddo Settlement and Cemetery on McKinney Bayou, Bowie County, Texas. Special Publication No. 32. Friends of Northeast Texas Archaeology, Austin and Pittsburg.

Skinner, S. A., R. K. Harris, and K. M. Anderson (editors)
1969 Archaeological Investigations at the Sam Kaufman Site, Red River County, Texas. Contributions in Anthropology No. 5. Department of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

Todd, J.
2011 An Unique Shell Gorget from Wood County, Texas. Journal of Northeast Texas Archaeology 35:1-4.

Webb, C. H.
1959 The Belcher Mound, a Stratified Caddoan Site in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. Memoirs No. 16. Society for American Archaeology, Salt Lake City.

Buried in Soil Samples from the Gault Site by Laura Vilsack

Laura Vilsack is a visiting researcher from the Gault School of Archeological Research. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.   

In 2001 and 2002, field crews collected 610 bulk soil samples from a single excavation block (Area 12) at the Gault Site in Bell County, Texas. Today, these soil samples are currently being stored at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL). I recently contacted TARL and borrowed a portion of the soil samples for magnetic susceptibility analysis to expand upon my thesis research completed in 2016 (Figures 1 and 2). For my thesis work (Vilsack 2016), I focused mainly on the vertical stratigraphy and depositional processes within Area 12 specifically relating to a unique prehistoric cobble feature dating to approximately 14,900 cal B.P. Additional research, from the loaned soil samples, allowed me to extend sampling horizontally across the block instead of just a single vertical profile.

Figure 1. Example of the soil sampling strategy and location of samples collected from the field.


Figure 2. Resulting soil samples compacted into paleomagnetic sample cubes.

Analyzing the soil samples provides a great opportunity for me to address various questions concerning cultural activities around the cobble feature without having to return to the site to excavate the feature again. This feature is approximately 2 by 2 meters wide and varies in thickness between 5 to 15 centimeters. While the surface of the feature yielded very few artifacts, there was an abundance of Clovis and Older-than-Clovis lithic materials surrounding the cobbles.

After acquiring a broad understanding of the depositional environment surrounding the feature, my next goal is to determine if there were any potential signatures of cultural or natural anomalies directly above, at the same elevation as, and within 10 to 15 centimeters below the cobble feature. While magnetic susceptibility by itself does not reveal what type of anomalies occurred, it does aid in the identification of disturbances in the sediments relating but not limited to buried paleosols, movement of soils, organic debris left by humans and areas exposed to heat (Crowther 2003; Tite and Mullins 1971), middens (Dalan and Bevan 2002), and/or pits. Any anomalies detected with a magnetic susceptibility reader are of course dependent on the environment, type of soil, extent of the occupation, and density of the occupation. However, I expect and hope the results will highlight areas to focus further analysis on and reaffirm potential activity areas and/or toss zones identified by artifact densities and distributions that once surrounded this unique prehistoric feature.

References Cited

Crowther, J.
2003 Potential Magnetic Susceptibility and Fractional Conversion Studies of Archaeological Soils and Sediments. Archaeometry 45(4):685-701.

Dalan, Rinita A. and Bruce W. Bevan
2002 Geophysical Indicators of Culturally Emplaced Soils and Sediments. Geoarchaeology: An International Journal 17(8):779-810.

Tite, M.S. and C. Mullins
1971 Enhancement of the Magnetic Susceptibility of Soils on Archaeological Sites. Archaeometry 13(2):209-219.

Vilsack, Laura
2016 Investigations of Area 12: Gault Site. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Texas State University, San Marcos.