Texas Archeology Month looks little different than usual this year, since our in-person events are cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But, that won’t stop us from bringing you tons of new and exciting Texas archeology updates and activities! Here’s one new way to connect with us:
TARL is now in Instagram!
Follow @ut_tarl for great photos, activities, and contests.
We also thought we’d introduce TARL to anyone who isn’t familiar with us! Former TARL staffer Lauren Bussiere (ahem, that’s me) sat down with Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis and Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka to talk about what’s new at TARL. Check out the video below!
Many thanks to Jonathan, Marybeth, and Annie, as well as to Tom Williams of the Prehistory Research Project, who recorded and edited this video.
UPDATE: Scheduling update! Lectures 2 and 5 have now been switched so that Thomas J. Williams will be presenting on September 27th and Nancy Velchoff will be presenting on November 8th. Please see the corrected schedule below.
Join the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory and the Prehistory Research Project this fall to learn all about Clovis Technology. Originally associated with the earliest peoples in North America, continued research has shown that Clovis technology is a younger cultural manifestation. Despite this, it remains unique in the Americas for its geographic range and technology. Researchers from the Prehistory Research Project will present on various topics including the history of Clovis research, overshot production, regional variability, experimental reproduction, and blade technology.
All lectures will take place on Fridays from 11:30-1:30 in Portable 5A outside of TARL’s main building on the J.J. Pickle Research Campus.
September 20th Michael B. Collins
Clovis at Gault and in the Western Hemisphere
Robust data on Clovis lithic technology from the Gault site, Central Texas, and other sites suggest an improved concept of Clovis as an archeological manifestation. Historically, fluted Clovis points have been the operative diagnostic artifact for Clovis which has given rise to interpretive limitations. When available evidence permits, a more reliable characterization of Clovis emerges from the full technology of stone tool production, use, maintenance, and discard. This paper will discuss Clovis technology and highlight some of the upcoming talks from the research staff at the Prehistory Research Project.
September 27th Thomas J. Williams
Blade manufacturing: The Other Clovis Technology
Twenty years ago, Michael Collins identified the presence of a core-and-blade industry within the Clovis technological spectrum. While now general accepted as part of Clovis stone tool manufacturing, blade and blade cores are often under researched. In contrast to the ad-hoc production of long, narrow flakes, Clovis technology demonstrates a specific production sequence to generate a series of regularized blades from prepared cores. This talk will focus on the Clovis assemblage from the Gault Archaeological Site and explore the blade cores themselves. By understanding and examining the reduction sequences, chaîne opératoire, and blade use, archaeologist can explore the larger implications of this core-and-blade industry.
October 4th Alan M. Slade
Clovis Fluted Point Regional Variability: What’s the Point?
Clovis projectile points were long regarded as the hallmark of the first human presence in North America, although now there is considerable evidence of an ‘Older-Than-Clovis (OTC) technology present. Clovis groups spread rapidly across the continent during the end of the last Ice Age at around 11,500 14C BP / 13,300 Cal yrs leaving behind similar fluted projectile points in all 48 inland states of North America during a period of what could be as little as 250 years, going by the oldest dated Clovis site, to the youngest. As an archaeological culture Clovis portrays a range of variations in technology and the projectile point has often been the primary, if not only, diagnostic means of identifying a particular assemblage as being ‘Clovis’.
There is at present a real need for Clovis as a technological culture to be defined and until archaeologists and analysts agree on what is and what is not Clovis, there will always be a problem in definition due to the fact that some archaeologists and researchers call certain assemblages Clovis and others assign their projectiles to being ‘Clovis-like’, or in some cases assigning different culture or type such as Gainey, Ross County and St. Louis, even though they appear chronologically and technologically contemporaneous in the archaeological record.
A Clovis projectile point typology, defined by ‘stylistic variation’ may go some way in clarifying the issue. In this presentation I will identify and separate some of the variations within the projectile point assemblages from well documented and archaeologically recorded Clovis sites, some projectile points that are in private collections and selected isolated point discoveries will also be included.
November 1st Sergio Ayala
Behavioral Perspectives on Clovis Biface Technology
Clovis technological behaviors orbit closely around a central design and production system but does contain variability. From both Clovis caches and Clovis sites, ovate bifaces, completed lanceolates, and refurbished lanceolates encompass a spectrum of Clovis behaviors that merit behavioral/technological analysis and experimental support. A preliminary review of examples from the broad physiographic regions of the US, the degree of observed variability, and the implications will be discussed.
November 8th Nancy Velchoff M.Ph, CIG
Inventing the Clovis Bourgeois: Hyperbole and Periphery of the
Clovis Overshot Flake
(Most People Will Never be Great at Intentional Overshot Flaking)
Overshot flakes and scars have long been considered diagnostic of Clovis biface technology even though there were few data to support the argument. Recent debates in Clovis biface technology raised issue against assumptions countering Clovis’ use of overshot flaking was unintentional. Traditional research approach to Clovis technology often focused on finished bifaces or projectile points, and thus only provided a myopic view of the manufacturing process. An unusual love for waste flakes inspired a very different approach through reverse engineering to address several issues, specifically the overshot flaking problem. The Gault Site — a quarry/campsite – was the ideal case study to conduct research on Clovis biface production where hundreds of thousands of manufacturing waste flakes and nearly 500 overshot flakes were recovered from Clovis contexts. This presentation will discuss cracking the Clovis technology code and overshot flakes and reveal unexpected behavior patterns. These unusual flakes served a dual-purpose during reduction phases, but an even bigger surprise was discovering evidence that Clovis knappers intentionally used overshot flaking as part of their technological repertoire.
We are pleased to introduce a component of the TARL family, the
Center for Archaeological and Tropical Studies (CATS). The CATS
research facility is primarily focused in tropical Central America,
but has research interests in broader regions of the neotropics.
This interdisciplinary research unit has been operating for several
decades with a sister facility in Belize, the Programme for Belize
Archaeological Project (PfBAP). PfBAP research has been conducted on over 60 Maya sites within the research focus defined by the nature reserve covering 260,000 acres at the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area.
While this comment serves to Introduce CATS, forthcoming
newsletters will provide specific research interests and findings
of CATS as well as ongoing research right here at CATS Corner!
Serving as Director of CATS is Dr. Fred Valdez of the Department
of Anthropology (UT-Austin) and may be reached at
Over the past two years, the Houston Archeological Society (HAS) has been working with the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas to assess the contents of the extensive Andy Kyle Archeological Collection currently curated at the Center. The collection was donated to the Center by the late Mr. Andy Kyle and consists of well over 30,000 artifacts collected from 95 sites in 9 Southeast Texas counties. One of the more prolific sites represented in the collection is the Savoy site (41LB27) located in northeastern Liberty County. Artifacts from the Savoy site range from Middle Archaic to Late Prehistoric, with an extensive collection from the Woodland period (Crook et al. 2017).
A number of exotic items are present in the site collections including two broken bannerstones made from lithic material not native to Texas, a broken boatstone, and a large partial bowl of the rare Lower Mississippian ceramic type Mabin Stamped, var. Joe’sBayou. Recently, several previously unknown boxes of material from the Savoy site were located by Ms. Alana Inman, Director of the Sam Houston Regional Library. In these boxes was a small, cone-shaped ceramic artifact which could not be readily identified. The artifact has been shown to a number of colleagues both from Texas and Louisiana without any success in identification. It is hoped that this short paper will prompt someone to contact the author and assist in the artifact’s identification and functional use.
The Savoy Site (41LB27)
The Savoy site is located approximately 4.2 km southwest of the community of Moss Hill in northeastern Liberty County. The site is bisected by County Road 2099 and hand written notes left by Mr. Kyle in the boxes of artifacts in the collection indicate that the unknown ceramic artifact described herein was found on the part of the site that occurs south of CR 2099, known locally as the “Stone Field” after the property’s original owner. The Savoy site is part of a series of four sites that occur parallel to one another along a 600 meter southeast-to-northwest stretch of land. Site 41LB26 lies 215 meters to the southeast; site 41LB28 is 225 meters to the northwest; and site 41LB29 is 400 meters to the northwest. All four sites contain similar cultural material ranging from the Middle Archaic to the Woodland period and into the Late Prehistoric period as well (Kindall and Patterson 1987; Crook et al. 2017). The nearest source of permanent water to the Savoy site is Knight’s Bayou, which is located 1.2 km to the west. Knight’s Bayou is a tributary of the Trinity River which currently lies 2.5 km to the west of the site.
The Savoy site was originally recorded in 1973 by the University of Texas during the Louisiana Loop Survey (Elton R. Prewitt, personal communication, 2019). A second survey was conducted in the mid-1980s by members of the HAS in conjunction with Mr. Andy Kyle who showed them where his artifacts were found (Kindall and Patterson 1987; Sheldon Kindall, personal communication, 2017). A third exploration of the area was conducted in 2014 by TRC Environmental Corporation as part of a pipeline right-of-way survey. TRC conducted 21 shovel tests over both the north and southern portions of the site. Nine of the 21 shovel tests contained cultural materials including a Gary point, an Alba point, and numerous ceramic sherds (TRC notes on file with the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory).
Occupational material at the Savoy site covers at least 0.7 acres today, however, based on information given to the HAS by Mr. Kyle, this area represents only about 20 percent of the original site size. Much of the site was destroyed by the construction of CR 2099 coupled with farming and house construction in the area (Sheldon Kindall, personal communication, 2017). Soils covering the area of the Savoy site belong to the Spurger-Bienville-Kennefick complex, specifically a mix of Bienville and Kennefick soils (Griffen 1996). The typical soil profile at the site consists of about 13 cm of a dark brown loamy fine sand underlain by 200+ cm of a very fine-grain dark yellowish-brown loamy sand (Griffen 1996). The artifact horizon extends to at least one meter or more in depth.
Artifacts from the site generally represent the following archeological periods: (1) Archaic – 6000-2000 B.P. (marked by Ellis, Yarbrough, Kent, Ensor, and Gary points), (2) Woodland phase – 2000-1400 B.P. (marked by Gary and Kent points and both plain and decorated sandy paste ceramics), and (3) Late Prehistoric 1400-500 B.P. (marked by Alba, Catahoula, Friley, and Perdiz points, and both locally manufactured and imported Caddo ceramics) (Crook et al. 2017; Suhm et al. 1954; Suhm and Jelks 1962; Turner and Hester 1985, 1993, 1999; Turner et al. 2011).
The Mystery Artifact
As mentioned above, the artifact in question is a cone-shaped ceramic made from a sandy clay paste. It appears that the object is intentionally made and has not been repurposed from a broken sherd. It has been well-fired and is not friable, unlike most of the Goose Creek type ceramics from the site. Color varies from very pale brown (10YR 7/3-7/4) to pale brown (10YR 6/3). Length of the cone is 36.0 mm (Figure 1). Width is 15.0 mm at the wide end tapering to 6.1 mm at the pointed end. A small perforation approximately 1.5 mm in diameter transits through the entire length of the artifact (Figure 2).
At the wide end of the cone, the end is recessed to a depth of about 8 mm. Examination under a under high power (20-80x) Dino-Lite AM4111-T digital microscope shows the walls of the recessed end are slightly darkened and there is some unknown black residue on one side (Figure 3). No other wear was observed. To date, none of the darkened material has been removed for potential chemical analysis.
The cone-shaped ceramic artifact described herein is not only unique among all the artifacts recovered from the Savoy site, it is also completely unique among the entire Andy Kyle Archeological collection. Most of the artifacts collected by Mr. Kyle from the Savoy site were found on the surface so any artifact association with the object is unknown. However, given the composition of the ceramic and the fact that similar sandy paste ceramics have been recovered from the site, it is likely that the cone-shaped object is Woodland in age. Elton Prewitt (personal communication, 2019) postulated that the object was of Mississippian origin which is certainly possible given the presence of bannerstones made from exotic materials and the Mabin Stamped, var. Joe’s Bayou bowl from the same area of the site.
As to function, this remains problematical. The most common suggestions given to the author by colleagues is that it is either a perforated ornament of some type or a type of tubular pipe. Neither explanation is convincing, especially give the very small diameter (1.5 mm) of the perforation. If anyone from the Texas archeological community has seen something similar, please contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is grateful to Ms. Alana Inman, Manager of the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas for inviting the Houston Archeological Society to participate in the development of the new prehistory exhibit at the Center and thus affording us the opportunity to study in detail all the artifacts contained in the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection. Alana not only provided open access to study the collection but also allowed for the study of artifacts outside the Center. I am also grateful to HAS colleague, Robert Sewell, who helped me take the high resolution digital photomicrograph which appears in this paper.
Crook, Wilson W., III, Robert J. Sewell, Linda C. Gorski and Louis F. Aulbach
2017 The Andy Kyle Archeological Collection. Report of the Houston Archeological Society, 29:13-56. Houston.
Griffen, Kirby L.
1996 Soil Survey of Liberty County, Texas. United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Texas Agricultural and Experiment Station and the Harris County Flood Control District.
Kindall, Sheldon and Leland W. Patterson
1987 The Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Southeast Texas. The Journal 86:14-21. Houston Archeological Society, Houston.
Suhm, Dee Ann and Alex D. Krieger, with the collaboration of Edward B. Jelks
1954 An Introductory Handbook of Texas Archeology. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 25:1-562.
Suhm, Dee Ann and Edward B. Jelks (editors)
1962 Handbook of Texas Archeology: Type Descriptions. Special Publication No. 1, Texas Archeological Society and Bulletin No. 4, Texas Memorial Museum.
Turner, Ellen Sue and Thomas R. Hester
1985 A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. Gulf Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
1993 A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. 2nd Edition. Gulf Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
1999 A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. 3rd Edition. Gulf Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
Turner, Ellen Sue, Thomas R. Hester, and Richard L. McReynolds
2011 Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. Taylor Trade Publishing, Lanham, Maryland.
Myself and Caroline Znachko, Ph.D. students from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, have been collecting skeletal data from the Ernest Witte mortuary site. The site is an Archaic cemetery from east-central Texas and was utilized by a semi-sedentary indigenous group between 2,700 B.C.E. and 1,500 C.E. The Archaic period is known for increasing population and drastic climate change in Texas. This information, coupled with an analysis of the developmental timing of linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), leads to a meaningful consideration of the impact of a changing environment on the life course of Middle and Late Archaic Texas hunter-gatherers. Out of 191 individuals analyzed, 40 were affected by LEH with more males affected than females overall. Age-at-formation analyses indicate a slightly earlier first age-at-onset of LEH for females than males and an earlier age-at-onset for young adults. These results provide further insight into populational patterns of the skeletal embodiment of early childhood stress in hunter-gatherers and can offer additional insight into health and stress patterns in the Texas Archaic.
We were invited to present this research by Marybeth Tomka at the TARL Renovations, Rehabilitation, Reorganization, and Research symposium at the 2018 Texas Archeological Society meeting and have recently offered a workshop through TARL to train students in dental pathology data collection. In the future, we plan to work with TARL to offer more workshops like this for students of all experiences completely free!
In addition, through this workshop, we identified two students with strong potential for future success in the field. These students are helping us to collect more LEH data from the Morhiss site and Crestmont site this summer. They will be collecting their own data and asking their own research questions as well and will be presenting posters at next year’s conferences on dental abscesses, caries, and their relation to LEH. Our aim is to ultimately yield research that helps with our understanding of the climate change and population increase that occurred during the Texas Archaic.
1981 Allens Creek: A study in the Cultural Prehistory of the Lower Brazos River Valley, Texas. Texas Archeological Survey Research Report NO. 61, The University of Texas at Austin.
In the June, 2018 issue of this newsletter, I reviewed some of the reasoning and methods that underpin paleoenvironmental research involving snails, and I pointed out that the southwestern quadrant of Texas (basically, west of longitude 100º W and south of latitude 32ºN) is almost a blank slate for archeomalacologists. We know that the better-watered eastern half of the state often produces abundant and informative snail faunas from sites in alluvial deposits, but what about sites in dryland alluvial settings? Dryland floodplains often lack fringing gallery forests and are essentially open habitats with high insolation, constant exposure to wind, and a conspicuous lack of leaf litter from deciduous tree canopy. Trees, if present at all, are likely to be represented only by scrub brush. Woody species in desert settings tend to be small-leaved, because high insolation makes photosynthesis very efficient, so leaf litter is often scarce or absent. Ground cover may be sparse, unless there is good grass cover in wet years, or rock rubble in sloping areas. Conditions like these are challenging for snails, which are highly moisture-sensitive.
One of the earliest studies in the state was done by Cheatum (1966) as part of the Amistad paleoecological project at Eagle Cave, Bonfire Shelter, Devil’s Mouth, and Devil’s Rockshelter, but the number of samples, volumetric size of samples, and number of specimens are not disclosed and intrasite provenience is reported only by stratum. In the entire vast area of the Big Bend (more than 12,300 square miles, not counting parts of Culberson, Hudspeth, and Reeves counties), no formal archeomalacological studies have been done until recently, as far as I know.
The Genevieve Lykes Duncan site (41 BS 2615, Early Holocene to present, Brewster County)
This site lies 54 km south of Alpine, toward the western side of the sprawling O2 Ranch, a 272,000-acre ranch that actually sprawls over into Presidio County (Fig. 1). This is the eastern part of the Basin and Range province, and the site sits at the north end of Green Valley, on an interfluve between Terlingua Creek and Davenport Draw. Both streams have contributed sediment in the past, and the deepest component consists of stratified Late Paleoindian (Early Holocene) occupations: sparse artifact scatters associated with rock-lined hearths or small earth ovens. An earlier occupation at about 10,400-11,080 cal BP lies about 2.3 to 2.5 m below the ground surface, with two rock-lined features, and five smaller rock-lined features dating about 8630-9535 cal BP are somewhat later. There are also two undated (but presumably Late Paleoindian) features that lack charcoal. As of 2016, at least 11 features had been found exposed in the walls of the recent arroyo that revealed the site, over a distance of about 24 meters (since then, three more have been found). There are also a few Middle and Late Holocene features exposed in more distant parts of the arroyo (Cloud et al. 2016:Fig. 6).
An extensive series of radiocarbon assays (chiefly on saltbush, mesquite, and creosote charcoal) ranging from 7934±25 to 9545±25 RCYBP places these Late Paleoindian occupations in the Early Holocene; Cloud et al. 2016:Table 2). These early occupations are buried by Allostratigraphic Unit 1, a thick deposit of clay loam that began accumulating sometime before 10,730 RCYBP and continued until the Middle Holocene. The Paleoindian deposits lie in a dark paleosol bracketed by two sheet gravel deposits (the lower one probably laid down by Terlingua Creek and the upper one by Davenport Draw; Cloud et al 2016:27). Allostratigraphic Units 2 (Middle to Late Holocene) and 3 (Late Holocene) overlie this unit. There is a series of global post-Younger Dryas cold events that punctuate the Early Holocene, but for the most part they do not seem to correspond to the Paleoindian occupations here, which follow the Preboreal Oscillation and precede the well-known 8200 cal cold event.
In July, 2013, I visited the site for several days with the auspices of the Center for Big Bend Studies, and with the assistance of Sam Cason (who did most of the work), collected a continuous column of matrix samples 60 cm wide and 2.74 m high from the southeast wall of the arroyo, immediately adjacent to the main excavation block (Fig. 2). The original plan was to collect samples in 5 cm increments, but the clay and silt-rich alluvium was so thoroughly indurated that this proved impossible, so the sampling interval was increased to 10 cm. Altogether 30 samples were collected (there are two extra samples because intervals were subdivided where stratigraphic breaks were crossed). The lowest sample cut only 10 cm into the lower gravel deposit (Fig. 2). This level is unassayed, but Andy Cloud (personal communication) estimates it dates to about 10,200 RCYBP, based on assays from the adjacent excavation block. Thus, the sample column documents the entire span of the Holocene (including the Late Paleoindian component), but presumably includes no Younger Dryas sediments.
In all, 465.6 kg (about half a ton) of sediment was collected. For the entire column, the mean sample size processed was 14.3 liters (range, 13-15 liters) and the mean analyzed weight was 15.05 kg; the total weight of sediment used in the analysis was 451 kg (a few samples had excess amounts). Samples were soaked overnight in tapwater, then passed through nested 18-inch geologic sieves with mesh sizes of 2 mm, 1 mm, and 0.5 mm. Residue from each grade was dried and bagged for picking. All snails, snail shell fragments, charcoal, seeds, animal bones, and possible microdebitage were saved and counted or weighed. After picking, the remaining residue was turned over to Brittney Gregory for heavy mineral separation studies at LSU.
Despite the fact that nearly half a ton of sediment was processed, only 843 specimens (many of them damaged or fragmentary) were recovered. This amounts to a density of only about two specimens per liter of sediment, compared to about 10-130 per liter from other sites in the eastern half of Texas where the same methods have been used. There are only four kinds of terrestrial snails: Succineidae, Gastrocopta pellucida, Helicodiscus singleyanus (= Lucilla singleyana), and Pupoides albilabris. The Succineidae are unidentified. Although succineids are usually considered to be wetland fringe inhabitants, there are perhaps a couple of borderland species (Succinea luteola and S. solastra) that are found in arid upland areas. Thus, it is not clear whether the succineids indicate wet or dry conditions (but perhaps the latter). There are only two kinds of aquatic snails: a planorbid, believed to be juvenile Planorbella trivolvis, and Physa sp., probably Physa acuta. A few examples of a third aquatic species, Gyraulus parvus, was not found in the sample column but was recovered in wet-screening by the field crew.
All of these snails are resilient habitat generalists, and all appear to be very arid-tolerant species (although the identity of the succineids is uncertain). Almost all the Succineidae, the Helicodiscus, and the aquatic snails are juveniles, hinting at high juvenile mortality. Generally speaking, the aquatic taxa are tolerant of sluggish, poorly oxygenated, warm water with high solute levels. All of the aquatic snails are confined to the bottom half of the column, disappearing in the upper gravel, just before the midpoint of the Holocene; otherwise, the same kinds of snails are found throughout the column, although fluctuating in abundance.
The Genevieve Lykes Duncan snail assemblage is characterized by low specimen density, low taxonomic diversity, apparently high juvenile mortality for many taxa, and a preponderance of arid-tolerant, resilient habitat generalists. When I began sampling this site, I expected to find lingering evidence of greater moisture conditions from the Younger Dryas at the base of the column. My expectation was that despite mounting aridification in the Early Holocene, one or two samples at the base of the column would yield greater numbers of snails, more diversity, and perhaps some taxa that are more moisture-dependant. This proved not to be the case. Instead, the snail assemblage suggests local conditions were already arid by the start of the Holocene. This is consistent with the saltbush, mesquite, and cholla identified in charcoal, and the Cheno-Ams, Artemisia, thistle, Asteraceae, and Ephedra identified in a pollen sample overlying Feature 1 (Cloud et al. 2016:55-56). My sampling stopped in the top of the lower gravel (a depositional event that might signal significant climatic reorganization), and if there is an assemblage adapted to wetter conditions, it must lie in the unsampled sediments under that gravel bed.
The Sayles Adobe site (41 VV 2239, Late Holocene, Val Verde County)
In May, 2016, I visited the Sayles Adobe site in Eagle Nest Canyon (Fig. 3) near Langtry. Eagle Nest Canyon is a narrow, deep, rock-floored canyon that drains southward into the Rio Grande, and two famous sites, Eagle Cave and Bonfire Shelter, lie farther upstream in the canyon. Sayles Adobe is a sandy terrace site that sits perched high (about 11 meters) above the canyon floor not far from the confluence with the Rio Grande. It sits at the foot of the talus slope descending from Skiles Shelter (41 VV 165) and may have served as an adjunct area during the occupation of that site. Tori Pagano, a Texas State University graduate student, has been excavating Sayles Adobe for her MA thesis in geoarcheology, and my report on the snails is to appear as an appendix in her thesis. Tori collected a discontinuous series of eight pilot samples for me from two separate excavation blocks, representing about a 2500-year span of the Late Holocene. Here, instead of a continuous column, the goal was simply to find out if microsnails were present in these sediments, and if so, what kind and in what quantity.
The thick package of alluvium at this site consists of sandy sediments derived from limestone terrain in the canyon watershed, along with some fine-grained sediments (including mud drapes) contributed by backflooding from the nearby Rio Grande. Two of the samples were box-shaped removals 20 cm thick (“borrow pit” block), and six were 22-42 cm in thickness (“sandbox” block; Fig. 4). The samples come from two separate excavation blocks and represent a maximum elevation difference of about 2.9 m. These samples cover about a 2500-year span of the Late Holocene, from about 3167 cal BP at the lowest sample to a point somewhat later than 675 cal BP for the uppermost sample (Tori Pagano, personal communication 2018). This uppermost sample, at about 1275 AD, occurs well into the Medieval Climatic Anomaly. Sedimentation rates were high at this site. An Early Holocene radiocarbon assay of 8236±34 RCYBP was obtained on guajillo charcoal from an auger test at a depth of 5.7 m, so there are sediments equivalent in age to the Lykes Duncan site, but no excavation or snail sampling has been done at this depth. Late Holocene sedimentation rates were evidently high at this site, so the unusually thick samples obtained (up to 42 cm) probably do not imply much time-averaging.
For the 8 pilot samples, average volume was 12.7 liters (range, 11.3-15.0). The processing methods used were the same as those at the Lykes Duncan site. From the 101.35 liters of sediment processed, only 559 specimens were recovered; almost 81% of these came from the 0.5 mm mesh sieve. Specimen density is fairly low, about 5.51 specimens per liter. This is much lower than the 15.7 specimens per liter at Bonfire Shelter, doubtless reflecting the much higher depositional rates at Sayles Adobe. Low specimen density could be a result of poor habitat quality, the diluting effect of rapid sediment deposition, or both.
The samples produced one adult Rabdotus (species indeterminate), three juveniles, and some spires of indeterminate age. Other than this, the snail fauna is very similar to that from Genevieve Lykes Duncan. The assemblage includes Gastrocopta pellucida adults and juveniles, Succineidae adults and (mostly) juveniles, Helicodiscus singleyanus (Lucilla singleyana) of indeterminate age, a few Pupoides albilabris adults, and perhaps two aquatic species: small, mostly juvenile snails tentatively identified as Gyraulus parvus (but with a somewhat anomalous shape), and two small planorbids that look different from Gyraulus (an embryo and a columellar fragment) and suggest the possibility of one or more different species.
Except for the presence of a few Rabdotus and the absence of Physa, this assemblage is much the same as that at Genevieve Lykes Duncan. The succineids are mostly very tiny embryos, and I suspect represent one of the two upland, arid-adapted species in the Succineidae family.
Overview: Snails in Dryland Alluvium
These two sites differ in many ways. Genevieve Lykes Duncan lies in an open, lowland basin at about 1180 meters, in sediments generated from igneous and metamorphic bedrock, and spans the entire Holocene, at the confluence of two meandering, unconstrained streams. Sayles Adobe lies in a narrow, rock-floored limestone canyon at 350 meters, partially sheltered from wind and insolation, with samples that are limited to the Late Holocene (although older but unsampled sediments are at the base), with sediments produced both by limestone bedrock terrain and by Rio Grande backflooding (although the there seems to be no particular evidence of a Rio Grande influence in the snail assemblage).
Annual precipitation is similar in the two areas, but it is distributed differently. At Langtry under the current climatic regime, it is about 37.26 cm/year (based on 1981-200 normals) with 32% occurring in the summer. There is no permanent weather station on the O2 Ranch, but average annual precipitation was about 36 cm in 1914-1928, and 42 cm in 2015-2016. May to October are the wettest months, with August the peak, and 44% of precipitation occurring in the summer months (June to August). Insolation rates are very high here and evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation for 11 out of every 12 months. Although the antiquity of the North American Monsoon system is not entirely certain, Genevieve Lykes Duncan participates in this system today, receiving Pacific moisture, often from convectional thunderstorms, mostly in the summer, when plant growth and snail activity are enhanced, but evaporation rates are higher. Sayles Adobe lies farther east and receives more moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, so its precipitation pattern is a hybrid of the West Texas monsoon pattern and the bimodal eastern Texas pattern of rainfall peaks in May and September. At Langtry, April-May and September-October are the rainiest months, but significant rainfall also occurs in June-August (Fig. 5).
Despite these differences, both sites have similar snail assemblages, characterized by low specimen density, a very limited range of resilient, arid-adapted taxa, and apparent high juvenile mortality in some of the species. Both assemblages seem to indicate arid, drought-prone (and probably variable) conditions that only resilient habitat generalists can tolerate. These findings raise an interesting question: if the fauna consists entirely of resilient habitat generalists, can we rely on it to register small-scale fluctuations in past climates? In faunal studies, it is often the rare, infrequent species with specialized habitat preferences that carry the most paleoenvironmental information payload. If none of these are present, can we rely on fluctuating specimen counts to indicate changing environmental conditions?
We probably need to apply the FRIN principle (Further Research Is Needed).
Cheatum, E. P.
1966 Report on Mollusk Shells Recovered From Four Archeological Sites in the Amistad Reservoir. Pages 227-243 in Dee Ann Story and Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr. (assemblers), A Preliminary Study of the Paleoecology of the Amistad Reservoir Area. Final Report of Research Under the Auspices of the National Science Foundation (GS-667).
Cloud, William A., Richard W. Walter, Charles D. Frederick and Robert Mallouf
2016 Late Paleoindian Occupations at the Genevieve Lykes Duncan Site, Brewster County, Texas. The Journal of Big Bend Studies 28:1-82. Center for Big Bend Studies, Alpine.
Manuscripts Resulting from This Research
Brown, Kenneth M.
n.d.a Analysis of a Column of Snail Samples from the Genevieve Lykes Duncan Site. Manuscript in progress, estimated length about 80 pages, to be published by the Center for Big Bend Studies.
n.d.b Appendix G: Pilot Sampling of the Snail Fauna at Sayles Adobe. Appendix to appear in
MA thesis (2019) by Victoria Pagano, Texas State University, estimated length about 25 pages.
The A. C. Saunders site (41AN19) is an important ancestral Caddo settlement in the upper Neches River basin in East Texas (Figure 1a). The site is one of only a few ancestral Caddo sites with mound features in the upper Neches River basin, particularly those that are known to date after ca. A.D. 1400, but this part of the upper Neches River basin, including its many tributaries, such as Caddo Creek just to the south and west (see Perttula and Walters 2016), was widely settled by Caddo farmers after that time. These Caddo groups left behind evidence of year-round occupied settlements with house structures, middens, and outdoor activity areas, impressive artifact assemblages, as well as the creation of numerous cemeteries (Figure 1b), most apparently the product of use by families or lineage groups.
Figure 1. The A. C. Saunders site in the upper Neches River basin: a, important excavated Caddo sites in the Caddo Creek valley and surrounding drainages in Anderson and Henderson counties, Texas; b, known Caddo cemetery and domestic sites.
What makes the A. C. Saunders site unique in upper Neches River basin Caddo archaeology are the two mound features there, situated on a broad upland landform less than a mile west of the Neches River and a comparable distance north of the confluence of Caddo Creek with the Neches River. The first mound (Feature 1) is an ash mound that has been linked with the use of fire temples and perpetual fires by the xinesi of Hasinai Caddo groups in historic times (Jackson 1936; Kleinschmidt 1982, 1984; Perttula 1992; Wyckoff and Baugh 1980). The second mound, not far to the southeast (Figure 2a), is a thick midden mound (Feature 2) that was deliberately accumulated over a large structure (Feature 3, Figure 2b). The concentrated midden accumulation near the ash mound suggests it may represent the remains of multiple feasting events and other ritual activities where large amounts of food were consumed, clay pipes were smoked, and cooking and serving vessels were used, and thus the discarded fragments of these activities creating the midden deposits. These items constitute a discrete and substantial corpus of material culture remains that have played a large role in defining and framing the archaeological character of what has come to be known as the Late Caddo period Frankston phase (ca. A.D. 1400-1680); the A. C. Saunders site is the quintessential Frankston phase site in East Texas. As such, these material culture remains curated at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin—in particular the large number of ceramic vessel sherds and ceramic pipe sherds from Feature 2 at the A. C. Saunders site—warrant continued archaeological study as a means to better understand the stylistic and technological character of the ceramic vessels and pipes made and used by ancestral Caddo peoples in the upper Neches River basin (Perttula 2011, 2013, 2019). The remainder of the material culture assemblage included Perdiz arrow points, stone drills, mussel shell digging tools, an assortment of bone tools (awls, needles, and beamers), and shell columnella beads.
Figure 2. A. C. Saunders site: a, plan map of the site; b, plan map of Feature 3 underneath the midden mound.
Ceramic Vessel Sherds
A total of 7344 ceramic sherds have been recovered from Feature 2 at the A. C. Saunders site from plain ware, utility ware, and fine ware vessels; of these, approximately 82 percent (n=6001) are from a known arbitrary level in Feature 2. The plain rim, body, and base sherds comprise approximately 21 percent of the vessel sherd assemblage, and the fine ware sherds account for another 8.8 percent of the assemblage. Utility ware sherds are by far the most common in Feature 2 at the site, representing approximately 70 percent of the ceramic wares. The plain to decorated sherd ratio for the Feature 2 assemblage is a low 0.27.
Defined utility ware types identified in the ceramic vessel sherds (from jars) include Bullard Brushed, Killough Pinched, La Rue Neck Banded, Lindsey Grooved, and Maydelle Incised, as well as sherds from two new types: Mann Punctated (with tool punctated elements on the rim and /or body), and Saunders Punctated (with fingernail punctated elements on the rim and/or body). Based on the number of rim sherds, the most common utility wares are Maydelle Incised (n=64, Figure 3a), Bullard Brushed (n=56, Figure 3b), Saunders Punctated (n=38, Figure 3c), and Mann Punctated (n=26, Figure 3d).
Figure 3. Common utility ware types at the A. C. Saunders site: a, Maydelle Incised; b, Bullard Brushed; c, Saunders Punctated; d, Mann Punctated.
The fine ware sherds are from carinated bowls primarily from a number of varieties of Poynor Engraved (n=68 rim sherds), particularly var. Cook (n=32 rim sherds) (Figure 4a) and var. Hood (n=13 rim sherds) (Figure 4b), as well as Hood Engraved and Hume Engraved vessels. The predominance of var. Cook and var. Hood vessels suggests that Feature 2 at the A. C. Saunders site accumulated between the early 15th century and the mid-late 16th century (see Perttula 2011:Table 6-37). Hood Engraved effigy bowls were also most commonly manufactured by Caddo potters during that era in the upper Neches River basin.
Figure 4. Most common Poynor Engraved varieties at the A. C. Saunders site: a, var. Cook; b, var. Hood.
The sherds from the A. C. Saunders site are from vessels tempered almost exclusively with grog (i.e., fired clay and/or crushed sherds). Between 98.3-98.6 percent of the sherds by ware have grog temper inclusions. Other temper inclusions, such as burned bone and hematite, were commonly added to the grog-tempered paste, and with regularity in the case of hematite in all three wares (11.7-21.1 percent). The few sherds in the different wares that have crushed and burned bone range from 9.1 percent in the plain wares, 9.9 percent in the utility wares, and 9.0 percent in the fine wares.
In addition to the 7300+ sherds from plain ware, utility ware, and fine ware vessels, there are other distinctive characteristics of the Frankston phase assemblage at the A. C. Saunders site. These include strap and lug handles (n=85) on utility ware jars, pedestal legs and bases (n=13) from Killough Pinched jars, spindle whorls (n=29), and one ceramic bead.
Ceramic Pipe Sherds
The A. C. Saunders artifact assemblage from Feature 2 has one complete ceramic pipe and 89 stem and bowl sherds. These pipes are from several defined pipe varieties in the upper Neches River basin (see Perttula 2011). Two of the pipe sherds in the assemblage are part of two different circular platform pipes that have either a series of upper and lower large excised pendant triangles or hatched engraved triangles on either side of the platform.
The remainder of the ceramic pipes and pipe sherds are from elbow pipes, including sherds from Var. A (n=7), Var. B (n=16), Var. C (n=5), Var. D (n=1), and Var. G (n=14), the Neches pipe (Jackson 1933). Another 45 sherds cannot be assigned to a defined Upper Neches River basin elbow pipe variety.
The Var. A elbow pipe sherds have plain stems and bowls. They range from at least 64-76.0 mm in length, have smoothed exterior surfaces, and have rounded lips; one Var. A pipe has a flat distal knob. Var. B elbow pipes have between two to six horizontal incised or engraved lines on the stem (Figure 5a), and several examples also have horizontal incised lines on the lower bowl and stem or the distal stem knob, or engraved lines on the pipe bowl.
Figure 5. Selected ceramic pipe sherds and pipes from the A. C. Saunders site: a, Var. B. pipe sherd (No. 62); b, Var. C pipe sherd (No. 14); c, Var. G pipe (No. 50) with punctated rows on the collared bowl rim, at the stem, and at the lower stem.
Four of the Var. C pipe sherds have two to five horizontal incised lines on the stem as well as vertical incised lines on the lower stem (see Figure 5b). One pipe sherd has both horizontal and vertical incised lines on the stem as well as a row of tool punctations adjacent to the vertical incised lines. The one Var. D elbow pipe sherd in the A. C. Saunders assemblage is grog-bone-tempered and smoothed on its exterior surface. The stem is decorated with five horizontal incised lines while the lower stem has at least two vertical rows of tool punctations.
The Var. G elbow pipes and pipe sherds have several different decorative element combinations, including incised or engraved lines on the stem between punctated rows beneath the lip or with rows of circular punctations on the lower stem. Other Var. G pipes have punctated rows on the stem or on the lower stem, or have tool punctated rows on both the stem and lower stem. The one complete Var. G elbow pipe (see Figure 5c) is decorated on the bowl, the stem, and the lower stem. There are small circular punctated rows on the bowl lip, five rows of circular punctations at the base of the stem and bowl, and five rows of circular punctations on the stem below the lip. Several of these circular punctations have a kaolin-rich clay pigment rubbed in the punctations.
Jackson, A. T.
1933 Some Pipes of East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society 5:69-86.
1936 A Perpetual Fire Site. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society 8:134-174.
1982 Review and Analysis of the A. C. Saunders Site, 41AN19, Anderson County, Texas. Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin.
1984 The A. C. Saunders Site Revisited: A Hasinai Fire Temple? Paper presented at the 26th Caddo Conference, Nacogdoches.
Perttula, T. K.
1992 “The Caddo Nation”: Archaeological & Ethnohistoric Perspectives. University of Texas Press, Austin.
2011 The Ceramic Artifacts from the Lang Pasture Site (41AN38) and the Place of the Site within an Upper Neches River Basin Caddo Ceramic Tradition. In Archeological Investigations at the Lang Pasture Site (41AN38) in the Upper Neches River Basin of East Texas, assembled and edited by Timothy K. Perttula, David B. Kelley, and Robert A. Ricklis, pp. 145-320. Archeological Studies Program Report No. 129, Texas Department of Transportation, Environmental Affairs Division, Austin.
2013 Caddo Ceramics in East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 84:181-212.
2019 East Texas Caddo Ceramic Traditions. In Ancestral Caddo Ceramic Traditions, edited by D. P. McKinnon, J. S. Girard, and T. K. Perttula. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, in press.
Perttula, T. K. and M. Walters
2016 Caddo Archaeology in the Caddo Creek Valley of the Upper Neches River basin, Anderson and Henderson Counties, Texas. Special Publication No. 43. Friends of Northeast Texas Archaeology, Austin and Pittsburg.
Wyckoff, D. G. and T. G. Baugh
1980 Early Historic Hasinai Elites: A Model for the Material Culture of Governing Elites. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 5:225-283.
Archeologists have known of the painted pebbles in southwest Texas for about 100 years. Extensive excavation of dry rockshelters in the eastern and central Trans-Pecos region began in the 1920s. Initial digging by local collectors was followed in the 1930s by over half-dozen institutions that mounted multiple museum-stuffing expeditions.
Davenport and Chelf (1941) compiled 281 pebble designs observed in various collections from Val Verde county made during the 1920s and 1930s. The Amistad Reservoir salvage program carried out by UT Austin’s Texas Archeological Salvage Project (TASP) from 1958 to 1969 provided numerous additional samples that were recovered from various rockshelters in the Lower Pecos River portion of the eastern Trans-Pecos. As a result, the greatest number of known painted pebbles are from Val Verde county.
UT Austin student and TASP employee Mark Parsons (1967) studied painted pebbles intensively during the early 1960s. His full research paper, in which he worked with a sample of roughly 400 specimens (interpolated from his 1967 references), was never published, but a summary of it appeared later (Parsons 1986). Parsons’ work provides a foundation for continuing study of these fascinating artifacts. He demonstrated that the narrow end of most pebbles is the top portion of the design, but importantly he also defined a Core Motif comprised of 3 elements, and he described six proposed styles of pebbles.
The three elements of the Core Motif defined by Parsons include a Bisecting Element consisting of one or more vertical lines, a Central Element that is horizontal and located toward the lower portion of the pebble, and Flanking Elements positioned on either side of the bisecting element (Fig. 1). Each of these elements may comprise a variety of motifs.
Figure 1: Core Motif showing a) Bisecting Element; b) Central Element; c) Flanking Element (SID00411).-
The six painted pebble styles proposed by Parsons are currently being reviewed as part of a long-term study initiated by Shumla in 2009. The research team that includes Dr. Jean Clottes (Foix, France), Dr. Carolyn E. Boyd (Texas State University), and Elton R. Prewitt (TARL) currently works with a sample of roughly 750 painted pebbles. Although modifications to Parsons’ styles appear warranted, the basic structure he presented is sound and requires tweaking only in light of specimens excavated subsequent to his study.
Mock (1987, 2011, 2012, 2013) employs a different method of grouping painted pebbles based upon individual motifs rather than overall style. Her work has contributed significantly to possible pebble motif interpretations. However, we choose to follow the earlier work by Parsons that was based upon analysis techniques used in art history studies.
Pebbles may be painted in red, black or both, and sometimes yellow or white may be observed. Color is not used as a factor in the present examination of style. The illustrations that follow are enhanced either by pencil shading or digital overlay in order to make the sometimes very dim designs visible. Specimens are identified by their Shumla identification number (SID).
Parsons’ Style 1 exhibits geometric patterns. The Bisecting Element generally is three vertical lines while the Central Element has concentric circles and the Flanking Elements contain “X”s or diagonal lines. Designs often wrap around the lateral edges and most frequently are executed by fine lines. However, some pebbles of this style are executed by broader lines, prompting a suggestion that two substyles might be defined (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: Style 1, Early Geometrics; a) Style 1A (SID00775); b) Style 1B (SID00715).
In Parsons’ Style 2 the Bisecting Element usually is three lines, but the Central Element may be rectangular or circular with linear or spatulate forms radiating from it. The Flanking Elements include horizontal crescent lines or “flags.” While not overtly so, this style has elements of anthropomorphic representation. The Central Element circle is very suggestive of female genitalia. Two substyles are distinguished, the first of which includes horizontal crescents as originally defined by Parsons. The second includes straight lines (flags) that may be horizontal or diagonal and usually intersect a vertical line (Fig. 3).
Figure 3: Style 2, Flag Design showing obverse and reverse patterns; a) Style 2A (SID00154); b) Style 2B (SID00155).
Style 3 pebbles are overtly anthropomorphic with female genitalia apparent in the Central Element. The key features that identify this style are vertically-oriented chevrons positioned to suggest eyes in the Flanking Elements. Sometimes there are multiple chevrons, and some may be joined into a heart shape (Fig. 4).
Figure 4: Style 3, Chevron Eyes oriented vertically; a) SID00148; b) SID00500.
Parsons’ Style 4 is problematical. He defined this style based upon only three specimens, all of which are anthropomorphic exhibiting eyes similar to Style 5. The key motif he proposed is a “V” shape suggestive of projectiles. While this motif appears on several pebbles other than the original three, none of them are anthropomorphic with identifiable eyes. Tentatively, Style 4 may be redefined to include pebbles that have anthropomorphic qualities, especially female genitalia in the Central Element, but that lack eye representations in the Flanking Elements. The three pebbles Parsons used to define this style are now included in Style 5. Five substyles of Style 4 may be recognized (Fig. 5). In Style 4A the Bisecting Element includes a vee shape or a zigzag. Style 4B has anthropomorphic elements but no eyes while Style 4C is defined by fine-line application and the Central Element exhibits open circle or brackets. Style 4D comprises most examples not assignable to Styles 4A, 4B or 4C. Style 4E includes examples where apparent hair (or head) only is depicted either in red or black monochrome.
Figure 5: Style 4, Anthropomorphic, lacking eyes; a) Style 4A (SID00630); b) Style 4B (SID00626); c) Style 4C (SID00181); d) Style 4D (SID00611); e) Style 4E (SID00256).
Parsons’ Style 5 includes clearly anthropomorphic representations that he divided into two substyles. However, considering the observable variation in the currently available examples it appears four substyles might be appropriate for this group. Basic to the style is the presence of open brackets or circles in the Central Element and depictions of eyes in the upper Flanking Elements (Style 5A). Some examples exhibit downward diagonal lines or bands that converge toward the open brackets or circles (Style 5B). Others appear to have subtle shading on the upper portions of the pebbles suggestive of hair or possibly skull caps (Style 5C). Some anthropomorphic pebbles (Style 5D) are simply not assignable to a specific substyle (Fig. 6).
Figure 6: Style 5, Anthropomorphic, eyes depicted; a) Style 5A (SID00632); b) Style 5B (SID00022); c) Style 5C (SID00535); d) Style 5D (SID00285).
Style 6 also is anthropomorphic, but hair is clearly depicted both on obverse and reverse faces of the pebble. The Central Element is positioned higher on the pebbles than in other styles; it usually includes a rectangle or oval suggestive of a mouth. Eyes are most frequently depicted by short horizontal bars, but sometimes are depicted by vertical chevrons. No revisions are proposed for Style 6 (Fig. 7).
Figure 7: Style 6, Anthropomorphic, hair clearly depicted; a) SID00397; b) SID00701.
Newly proposed Style 7 includes a variety of geometric designs that differ markedly from those included in Style 1. Divided into three substyles, Style 7 pebbles may exhibit designs that depict “butterfly” motifs (Style 7A) while others comprise vertical lines only (Style 7B). Still others (Style 7C) contain various geometrics such as chevrons that may be nested or sometimes interlocking (Fig. 8).
Figure 8: Style 7, Late Geometrics; a) Style 7A (SID00382); b) Style 7B (SID00733); c) Style 7c (SID00189).
Parsons (1967, 1986) thought the various styles of painted pebbles formed a continuous artistic tradition that extended from the Early Archaic period through the Late Prehistoric period. That notion, however, was based on an outdated concept of Lower Pecos River regional chronology wherein the Late Archaic began at about 3000 B.P. As currently understood, the Late Archaic begins at about 4000 B.P. (Black and Dial 2005; Castaneda et al. 2018).
As originally proposed by Parsons, Style 1 pebbles indeed date to the Early Archaic (9000 – 6000 B.P.) as is confirmed by stratigraphic position and radiocarbon assays obtained from Eagle Cave (41VV167) near Langtry (Koenig and Black 2017). None of the styles are found in contexts suggesting a Middle Archaic (6000 – 4000 B.P.) age affiliation, contrary to assertions by some researchers (Mock 2012; Turpin and Middleton 1998). Styles 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 are all Late Archaic (4000 – 1200 B.P.) in age although some may extend into the early part of the Late Prehistoric. While Parsons postulated a temporal seriation among those styles, this suggestion cannot be confidently supported at this time. That Style 6 dates to the Late Prehistoric (1200 – 400 B.P.) as Parsons proposed seems quite reasonable although no examples have been found in clear unmixed context.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to the numerous people who have assisted in this ongoing study. The staff at TARL, the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio, the Amistad National Recreation Area of the National Park Service and the Jack Skiles family generously allowed access to their collections.
This summary is revised and condensed from a paper entitled “A Review of Parsons’ Painted Pebble Styles” presented at the 89th Annual Meeting of the Texas Archeological Society, San Antonio TX 26-28 October 2018.
Black, S. L. and S. W. Dial, 2005. Electronic document, https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/prehistory, (accessed 19 December 2018).
Castañeda, A. M., C. W. Koenig, M. W. Rowe and K. L. Steelman, 2018. Portable X-ray Fluorescence of Lower Pecos Painted Pebbles: New Insights Regarding Chaîne Opératoire, Context, and Chronology. Manuscript on file, Shumla, Comstock TX (submitted to Journal of Archaeological Science).
Davenport, J.W. and C. Chelf, 1941. Painted Pebbles from the Lower Pecos and Big Bend Regions of Texas. Bulletin V, Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, TX.
Koenig, C.W. and S.L. Black, 2017. Low Impact, High Resolution: Unraveling and Learning from 10,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherer Use of Eagle Cave. Paper presented at Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, March 29th-April 2nd, Vancouver BC, Canada.
Mock, S.B., 1987. The Painted Pebbles of the Lower Pecos: A Study of Medium, Form and Content. M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at San Antonio.
Mock, S.B., 2011. Portable Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands: The Symbolic Work of Women. American Indian Rock Art 37:115-132.
Mock, S.B., 2012. 41VV2079 – A Rock Shelter Excavated by Ted Sayles in 1932. Bulletinof the Texas Archeological Society 83:191-213.
Mock, S.B., 2013. Painted Pebbles: Lower Pecos Women Take Charge. In: Shafer, H.J. (Ed.), Painters in Prehistory: Archaeology and Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. Trinity University Press, San Antonio, TX, pp. 223-240.
Parsons, M.L., 1967. Painted Pebbles: A Stylistic and Chronological Analysis. Manuscript on file at Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, Austin TX.
Parsons, M.L., 1986. Painted Pebbles: Styles and Chronology. In: Shafer, H.J. (Ed.), Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos. Texas Monthly Press, Austin, TX, pp. 180-185.
Turpin, S.A., and L. Middleton, 1998. Painted Pebbles from Archaic Contexts in 41VV156, A Rockshelter in the Lower Pecos Region, Val Verde County, Texas. La Tierra 25(3):51-54.
Last fall, an archeologist working at TARL recognized a rare opportunity to look for plant remains from a site that had been excavated nearly 80 years ago. The site is the Rob Roy Site (41TV41), located in western Travis County, Texas on a terrace of the Colorado River. Austin residents will recognize the name for the residential subdivision that now overlooks the site. University of Texas personnel led by Dr. Kalvero Oberg excavated at Rob Roy from December 1938 to April 1939 with funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Artifacts and notes were sent to TARL, but as attention turned toward World War II, the materials were never properly analyzed or written up.
Regular readers of the TARL blog know that retired archeologist Dan Prikryl is currently working on the Rob Roy collections (December 2016, December 2017). He originally planned to use two charcoal samples from Rob Roy for radiocarbon dating, but he quickly realized that the soil collected along with the wood charcoal could contain small seeds or bulbs from foods and other useful plants. These could be parts of food plants that were accidentally burned during cooking, medicinal plants discarded after being used in poultices or teas, or debris from plants used for objects like baskets that were disposed of by burning in a campfire. Only plants that have been carbonized (turned to charcoal in a fire) can survive in the soil for hundreds or thousands of years at a site like Rob Roy where the deposits aren’t protected by cave walls and where the climate is humid enough that fresh plant parts decay into compost within weeks, months, or decades.
It’s not quite clear why Dr. Oberg directed workers to save charcoal samples from the Rob Roy site. WPA-era excavators working on large mound centers like the George C. Davis Site collected burned corn cobs and beans but not usually wood charcoal. Radiocarbon dating, which is often done on wood charcoal, hadn’t been invented in the late 1930s when excavations were going on. The principle of flotation processing, the method for extracting small seeds from archaeological soils, was known but didn’t come into common use in archeology until the 1980s. It’s possible Dr. Oberg knew about early studies in dendrochronology and dendroclimatology and decided to collect samples in case they turned out to be useful for tree ring dating or understanding past climate and weather patterns.
Since I specialize in identifying wood, nutshell, seeds, and similar plant material from archeological sites, Dan showed me the two charcoal samples from Rob Roy in the spring of 2017. I was able to select and identify a few fragments of wood charcoal for radiocarbon dating. Even in that quick scan, I could see that two types of wood had been burned in Feature 1, live oak (Quercus fusiformis; Figure 1) and an oak of the white group (Quercus sect. Quercus, which includes post oak, Q. stellata). Feature 2 contained white group oak, but it wasn’t clear if any other kind of plant material was present.
Figure 1: A fragment of live oak wood charcoal from Feature 1.
The size of the sample from Feature 1 was 4.1 cubic decimeters, about a gallon, and it included loose soil as well as charcoal. At 0.1 cubic decimeters, the sample from Feature 2 was smaller, roughly ½ cup, but it also included some soil. Dan and I judged that flotation processing would allow us to recover small seeds or bulb fragments that might be present but not readily recognizable among all the dirt and wood charcoal. Dan was interested in knowing what kinds of foods might have been cooked in the earth ovens at Rob Roy. Bison was abundant at the site, but plant foods are commonly cooked in earth ovens, too (Thoms et al. 2018). Many bulbs, roots, and tubers are more palatable and nutritious after the long slow cooking that earth ovens provide (Wandsnider 1997). In central Texas, these include wild onions and garlic (Allium spp.), eastern camas (Camassia scilloides), and scurfpea (Pediomelum spp.). We also hoped to recover plant material such as grass stems, grape leaves (Vitis spp.), and pricklypear pads (Opuntia spp.) that would have been used to provide moisture and insulate the food plants from the ash and charcoal in the fire. Dr. Steve Black, another archeologist associated with TARL (TBH co-editor) who has worked extensively on earth ovens, was also interested in seeing what, if any, plants might have been cooked in the earth ovens at Rob Roy. He provided a small grant to get the project underway.
TARL curator Marybeth Tomka prepared loan papers that allowed me to take the charcoal samples to my laboratory for processing and microscopic examination. Flotation processing is a water separation method where soil from an archeological site is placed in water to allow any bits of plants to float to the surface while soil particles and any artifacts sink to the bottom of the container. Floating plant material can then be poured off (decanted) into a fine mesh or scooped off with a fine mesh strainer. Flotation processing can be as simple as placing soil in a 5-gallon bucket and decanting plant material into the kind of fine mesh used in tent windows (Figure 2). Any heavier artifacts still in the soil can be separated by pouring the remaining sludge through a screen. This method is what I used for the Rob Roy samples. More elaborate flotation systems use devices like electric sump pumps, jet nozzles, and aerators to make flotation faster and easier. All three editions of Deborah Pearsall’s essential textbook, Paleoethnobotany, include extensive discussion of various flotation devices.
Figure 2: Flotation light fraction from the Eagle Bluff Site (41ME147), where light gastropods were decanted from the water surface along with modern rootlets and ancient charcoal. “24” is the number of this sample in the flotation log book.
Microscopic examination of the flotation samples showed that the archeological plants at Rob Roy consisted mostly of wood charcoal. Based on a sample of twenty fragments selected at random from each feature, Feature 1 contained about 85% live oak and 15% white oak. Feature 2 was at least 95% white oak, but a single fragment of wood charcoal was clearly not oak. The fragment was too small and brittle to identify conclusively, but the closest match appears to be povertyweed (Baccharis spp.), a weedy shrub that colonizes open areas near streambanks. Use of oaks for earth oven cooking makes a lot of sense both because they would have been common in the area even thousands of years ago and because they are dense woods that produce hot, long-lasting coals (Collier and Turner 1981; Marcouiller and Anderson n.d.). Carbonized fungi and insect droppings (probably termite) identified under the microscope indicate that the oak wood had been dead for some time prior to burning (Figure 3). Fuelwood was probably collected from snags or fallen trees in the gallery forest along the Colorado River.
Figure 3: Carbonized fungus from Feature 1 at the Rob Roy Site
No evidence of bulbs or tubers that are commonly cooked in earth ovens or evidence of any material used to wrap foods during cooking was found in either sample. Feature 1 did produce seeds from one food plant and one medicinal plant, however.
The probable food plant remains consisted of three seeds and one seed fragment of goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) (Figures 4 and 5). Seeds of goosefoot plants are edible, and two species, C. quinoa (yes, that quinoa!) and C. berlandieri, were domesticated for their edible seeds in ancient times by Native American Indians. At least four species of goosefoot grow in Central Texas today, including C. berlandieri (Figure 6). No evidence for domesticated C. berlandieri has been found in the area, and the seeds from Rob Roy have thick, wild-type seedcoats. Goosefoot, quinoa, and other chenopodium species are members of the spinach family, known for nutritious, iron-rich greens. Goosefoot greens as well as seeds may have been exploited by the ancient inhabitants of the Rob Roy Site. In addition, the flowering seedheads of chenopodium species are edible, raw or cooked, like modern broccoli (Glore 2006). Nutritional studies of various species of chenopodium show they can be important sources of protein, minerals (especially iron), anti-oxidants, and anti-microbials (Navruz-Varli and Sanlier 2016; Poonia and Upadhayay 2015).
Figure 4: Goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) seeds and seed fragment from Feature 1, Rob Roy Site.
Figure 5: Chenopodium plants can be difficult to identify to species. This one, photographed in San Saba County on August 18, 2018, is either slim-leaf goosefoot (C. leptophyllum) or thick-leaf goosefoot (C. pratericola).
Figure 6: Fruits of pitseed goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) from a wild stand in western Travis County, Texas.
The probable medicinal plant remains consisted of one seed and two seed fragments of pricklypoppy (Argemone spp.) (Figures 7 and 8). To the author’s knowledge, this is the first pricklypoppy recovered archeologically in central Texas, although it is known from the Tres Metates Site in the Trans-Pecos (Dering 2008). Among historic Native Americans, use of pricklypoppies was almost always medicinal, and seeds were typically the plant part used. Paiutes, Shoshones, Kawaiisu, and Washoes used a salve containing the crushed seeds for cuts, sores, and burns (Moerman 1998:89-90). Shoshones used the salve to kill lice as well. Shoshones and Comanches used an infusion of pricklypoppy seeds to treat sore eyes, and Shoshones also ate pulverized seeds as a more general medicine (Moerman 1998:89-90). An American native, pricklypoppy is now widespread in warm regions worldwide, and its seeds, leaves, and roots have been used by many people to treat ailments from toothaches and eye problems to cancer (Cheatham et al. 1995:448-458).
Figure 7: Pricklypoppy seed from Feature 1, Rob Roy Site
Figure 8: Prickypoppy (Argemone sp.) photographed in western Travis County, Texas.
Although it was disappointing not to find evidence of typical earth oven plants like camas bulbs, scurfpea tubers, or prickypear pads, the information gained by processing and examining the flotation samples is still useful. First, we discovered evidence that the ancient inhabitants at the Rob Roy site were using pricklypoppy, probably medicinally, and eating the leaves, seeds, and/or flowering seedheads of goosefoot. As to what was cooked in the earth ovens, the lack of bulbs, tubers, or packing material suggests either that the people at Rob Roy were such very careful cooks that no plant foods or packing material were accidentally charred or that the earth ovens were used to cook something other than plant foods. Given the abundance of bison bone at the site, pit cooking of bison is a strong possibility.
Insights from plant remains at the Rob Roy Site highlight the long-term research potential of the extensive WPA collections at TARL: eight decades on the shelf and still yielding new data!
Cheatham, Scooter, Marshall Corning Johnston, and Lynn Marshall
1995 Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northeastern Mexico, Volume 1: Abronia-Arundo. Useful Wild Plants, Inc., Austin, Texas.
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.