Category Archives: Projects & Research

Archeomalacology

by Ken Brown

Archeomalacology is the study of mollusks in archeological contexts. Strictly speaking, this might include marine bivalves, marine snails, freshwater mussels, and various kinds of inland snails. In practice, though, I work only with snails (terrestrial, amphibious, and aquatic) from continental settings, along with some other kinds of very small invertebrate organisms that are sometimes recovered in snail sampling (pea clams, fingernail clams, and freshwater limpets).

There are two reasons why archeologists might want to commission studies of snails from archeological sites:

1) Snails are useful paleoenvironmental indicators.

2) In Central and South Texas, snails of the genus Rabdotus were a conspicuous food item beginning in the Early Archaic and perhaps peaking in exploitation in the Late Archaic.

Furthermore, snails can be used as a source of organic material for radiocarbon assay or epimerization studies, and have also been used for carbon and oxygen isotope studies.

Although to most archeologists, “snail” and “Rabdotus” are synonymous, in reality there are many native Texas land and amphibious species and perhaps as many as 41 aquatic species (although DNA studies are collapsing this number). Kathryn Perez estimates that there are as many as 185 contemporary and extirpated terrestrial species and subspecies, although I am skeptical that all these of these species reports are valid (many reports probably date from decades ago, when taxonomic splitting was rampant, and the real number of Texas natives is probably significantly lower). There are also a few species that have been extirpated since the Pleistocene, and around a dozen or so invasive Eurasian land or aquatic species. The native terrestrial species differ widely in habitat preference and body size, from the tiny Carychium mexicanum (adult shell height, 1.7-2.0 mm) to Rabdotus alternatus (adult shell height, up to 4.3 cm). In archeological sites where habitats were favorable and proper sampling is done, generally about two to three dozen taxa can be expected. In Texas, the Lubbock Lake site holds the record for diversity, with just under four dozen taxa.

Here are two of the most common micro-sized terrestrial snail species in Texas (these examples are from Berger Bluff, in Goliad County). Neither will be captured in quarter-inch mesh.

Image: Here are two of the most common micro-sized terrestrial snail species in Texas (these examples are from Berger Bluff, in Goliad County). Neither will be captured in quarter-inch mesh.  Image courtesy of Ken Brown.

To read more about archeomalacology and Ken Brown’s work, go here:  https://sites.utexas.edu/tarl/projects-research/

 

Student Project Update: Truc Nguyen

by Truc Nguyen

The past two weeks involved hands on work that I was able to do on the rehousing project of our naturally preserved mummy. Working with cardboard boxes, duct tape, and other tools, I was able to come up with my first rough idea for both the outer box and inner sled. Upon further work, both Kerri and I decided that an additional inner sled would be needed.  Hope to keep you all updated as we make more progress!

 

Truc has been busy constructing models of the long-term mummy housing.  She is experimenting with different types of boards, tapes and designs to better understand how viable her design will be.  The materials that she will be using in the design of her final project will be archival, chemically inert and offer the rigid support needed to protect such a delicately preserved individual.
Truc has been busy constructing models of the long-term mummy housing. She is experimenting with different types of boards, tapes and designs to better understand how viable her design will be. The materials that she will be using in the design of her final project will be archival, chemically inert and offer the rigid support needed to protect such a delicately preserved individual.

 

Once she decided on a drop-front outer box that will provide the rigid protection necessary for moving the mummy she focused on a desgning an interior sled with handles.  This will allow researchers to access the remains by untying the stays and dropping the front of the box and then sliding forward the interior sled.
Once she decided on a drop-front outer box that will provide the rigid protection necessary for moving the mummy she focused on a designing an interior sled with handles. This will allow researchers to access the remains by untying the stays and dropping the front of the box and then sliding forward the interior sled.

 

Truc's project is intended to improve the stability, protection and access of one of our most sensitive sets of remains.  Designed much like a set of Russian nesting dolls, the various envelopes will provide 1. the rigidity necessary to move the box when necessary, 2. the ability to access approximately 160 degrees of the remains, and ultimately 3. 180 degrees with the insertion of a flat, reinforced platform with custom-contoured ethafoam supports that will prevent the mummy from turning or leaning.
Truc’s project is intended to improve the stability, protection and access of one of our most sensitive sets of remains. Designed much like a set of Russian nesting dolls, the various envelopes will provide 1. the rigidity necessary to move the box when necessary, 2. the ability to access approximately 160 degrees of the remains, and ultimately 3. 180 degrees with the insertion of a flat, reinforced platform with custom-contoured ethafoam supports that will prevent the mummy from turning or leaning.

 

For information on Truc’s project:  RehousingTARLMummies

Check back later in the week as Truc continues to design and engineer protective long-term housing for this delicate set of remains as she continues her research into best practice for creating stable, preservation micro-environments for organic objects.

 

 

Of Snips and Snails

by Susan Dial

Sometimes even the smallest of creatures can provide big insights.  Dr.  Ken Brown, an archeologist and TARL Research Affiliate, has been on the trail of snails for decades.  From these seemingly inconsequential mollusks, a wealth of data about past environments at archeological sites can be gleaned.   Simply put, different species of snails can thrive in different environmental conditions.  By determining which species were present at a given time, he can reconstruct what the climatic conditions were like over time.  His observation of snails (species, habitat requirements, species densities and distributions, etc) allow him to contribute invaluable insight into site formation and transformation over time, evidence of bioturbation, possible signs of cultural utilization, and especially paleo-environmental reconstruction.

The processes involved in snail analysis is painstaking and often tedious, involving screening sediment samples through a series of increasingly fine-grained mesh, picking out the shells, sorting by size, and finally identifying them.  Good eyesight is a must for this job: some snails in his samples are less than a millimeter across, and specimen storage is in gel caps, not plastic bags.  For archeologists, however, this sort of information can be invaluable—and often the only available indicator of past environments.

Ken’s research interests are hardly limited to snails, however. He also is a specialist in prehistoric wooden artifacts, having studied (and identified) dozens of the snares, traps, curved sticks, dart shafts and other enigmatic items from TARL’s perishable collections.  His detailed drawings, descriptions, photos and lab notes of these remarkable artifacts now fill very large ring- binders—the makings of a publication long awaited by other archeologists.

Ken’s interest in archeology can be traced back to his teen years participating in Texas Archeological Society field schools. He has been at it ever since.  Awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, he has worked in the field for nearly 40 years and mostly at sites in Texas, but also in New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois and New York.   Ken’s dissertation on the Berger Bluff site in Victoria County provides unique insight into the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene climatic history of the coastal plains of Texas. For that site—and many of the others he’s worked on—he did multiple types of analyses, analyzing not just mollusks,  but myriad other fauna, lithics, etc.

Ken also has contributed substantive content to Texas Beyond History, including the McFaddin Beach exhibit (“This Site Is All Washed Up!”) http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/mcfaddin/index.html and a “mini-exhibit” on Berger Bluff http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/images/ap5.html. In the past several years, he has also served as a TBH reviewer; his broad expertise and eagle eye as an editor have been greatly appreciated.  His current work is focused on a project at the Genevieve Lykes Duncan site in Brewster County, one of only a few sites with Paleoindian-age deposits in the Trans Pecos.

In subsequent blog posts, Ken will share some of what he has learned about snails… and many other subjects, we hope!

 

 

Introductions!

by Truc Nguyen

Hello! My name is Truc Nguyen and I am an undergraduate currently finishing up my last semester at the University of Texas at Austin. I will hopefully graduate in May with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in French. My academic focus for the past few years has been mostly physical anthropology, particularly with human osteology.

I have had the great opportunity to work with many of the faculty and staff members both on the main campus and here at TARL. Currently, I am part of an Undergraduate Research Internship with Amber Heard-Booth. I am assisting her with her doctoral dissertation looking at variations in longitudinal arch in humans. This internship has allowed me to work closely with great technology, such as 3D scanners and software. Working with a graduate student has also given me insight on life in academia.

I am also working with Dr. John Kappelman as part of an independent study class. This has given me the opportunity to work here at TARL and explore the many collections here. Under the patient guidance of Kerri Wilhelm, I hope to gain experience and knowledge from working with such a vast amount of materials. I hope to be involved in as many projects as I can and I am so excited to be here!

Truc_Nguyen_2015

 

The Akokisa and the Atakapans

by Kerri Wilhelm

I’ve been working with one of our visiting researchers in the Human Osteology collection to provide information that may assist them in determining potential descendant populations of the Akikosa and Atakapa.  Making use of resources such as Texas Beyond History, our indispensable site files and archeological reports, as well as publicly available resources drawn from the UT libraries, the THC’s documentation on tribal claims and contacts (http://www.thc.state.tx.us/project-review/tribal-consultation-guidelines/tribal-contacts) and the online NAGPRA Native American Consultation Database, I can help researchers make connections between archeologically represented indigenous people and potentially descendant modern Native American groups.  Being able to make those connections allows researchers to investigate topics like cultural evolution, affiliation and identity, gene flow and admixture, and provides a larger context for their specific research goals.  It’s really exciting when the collections at TARL support what the documentation is telling us and a clearer image of the past begins to take shape.

Coastal prairie and marshland locations identified through archeological work to have been inhabited by prehistoric and historic populations of indigenous people.  Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.
Coastal prairie and marshland locations identified through archeological work to have been inhabited by prehistoric and historic populations of indigenous people. Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.

 

1776_British_Map
Detail from 1776 map by British cartographer and publisher Thomas Jefferys. Most of what the British knew about New Spain came from maps, charts, and sketches captured from Spanish warships by the British Armada. Although the geography is distorted and the map was already outdated in many regards when it was printed, it does name the Atacapa as “Wandering Indians” in southeast Texas. Source: David Rumsey Map Collection. Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.

 

 

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Approximate territories of native groups of the upper Texas coast in the early 18th century as reconstructed by Lawrence Aten in his 1983 book, Indians of the Upper Texas Coast (Academic Press). Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History. http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/mitchell/ethnohistory.html

 

 

Territory of the Atakapa-speaking groups in the 18th century as reconstructed by W.W. Newcomb (2004, Fig 1). Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History. http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/mitchell/images/Newcomb-2004-Atakapan.html

 

There is a group of people who self-identify as being descendants of the Atakapa who are currently in the process of applying for federal recognition as a Native American tribe (“Atakapa-Ishak Nation”).

“We were called Atakapa by the Choctaw.  The name was used by the Spaniards and French colonizers in Louisiana, as a slur word to refer to the Ishak people.  This gave us a reputation and rumor of being “man eaters”, which continues through today.  We, the descendants of the Atakapa-Ishak Indians exist unrecognized and misnamed under various names of choice like Creoles, Creole Indians, and Creoles of Color.  The term “colored” has clouded our racial identity.  Atakapa-Ishak descendants show a wide range of complexions which is attributed to the genes for light or brown complexions.  Many Atakapa-Ishak no longer know their correct racial identity.”

For more information on this tribe, their journey toward federal recognition and their ties to southeastern Texas, please visit their website at:  http://www.atakapa-ishak.org/history/

 

 

Wanted: Volunteers!

by Kerri Wilhelm

TARL has long served as ‘the facility’ within the state of Texas where archeological collections of every size, in every state of preservation imaginable, and with any number of associated files (or the loudly-cursed lack thereof) have come to curated down through the decades as Texas archeology has evolved in theory and methodology from the large-scale excavations of the WPA era to satellite imagery and LIDAR of remote piloted drones conducting survey.  As modern methodology in the field of archeology takes us further and further away from the days of ‘collect everything as you go’ toward an uncertain future where acrheological data and interpretive value are measured in terabytes, server space and 3D printing potential, we here at TARL carefully consider the research value and volume of the collections resting on the shelves.  Unlike the tiny digital footprint resulting from the virtual reconstruction of an excavation, the collections here range in footprint from the Herrera Gates to a 15′ long dugout canoe, to 40lb. metates and countless projectile points.  It can take your breath away if you stop to consider what lies inside the drawers here…4,000 years of human occupation caught in a snapshot, framed with carefully spun cordage, meticulously worked (and reworked) projectile points, and rabbit sticks worn smooth by countless calloused hands.  To the archeologically-uninitiated the drawers hold curiosities made of stone, wood and bone.  To those of us who have the privilege of calling TARL our “place of employment” these curiosities are the remnants of a distant past that was recorded in rock art and pictographs as opposed to cellulose and pixels.  But it takes time and resources to curate these irreplaceable artifacts of human history from our great state.  We are a small staff dedicated to the care of millions of artifacts and miles of site reports and archeological records.  As we have done so many times before, we are looking for volunteers.

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Marybeth Tomka, the Head of Collections at TARL, is interested in accepting volunteers to help her carry out the ongoing collections management tasks that allow these artifacts to retain their significance in history and prehistory.  Collections, and artifacts at the individual level, are only of research value if they are properly recorded in documentation and entered carefully into a relational database that retains this critical information and makes it work for the researchers.  Marybeth is responsible for seeing that all of the archeological collections which have been collected over many decades continue to be well-cared for and continue to be accessible to visiting researchers and archeologists.  Students who volunteer at TARL are provided hands-on training in archeological collections processing, artifact identification and some laboratory methodologies (when she has the time).  If you are a student interested in archeology, anthropology and/or museum collections management, the skills she can teach you through her volunteer program will assist you in your future professional endeavors.  Don’t let the off-campus location deter you.  The experience will prove well worth it and you’ll have the chance to work various prehistoric and historic collections and learn valuable skills from a trained professional archeologist.  If you get your geek on the same way we do, if you want to have the chance to see the drawers that hold the history and contribute to our ongoing projects, contact Marybeth Tomka, Head of Collections at marybeth.tomka@austin.utexas.edu.

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

by Susan Dial

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Did You Know?

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

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

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

 

 

 

Ongoing Research in the Human Osteology Collections

by Kerri Wilhelm

Dr. Deborah Bolnick, genetic anthropologist and associate professor in UT’s Anthropology Department, visited the TARL Human Osteology collection with one of her doctoral students, Austin Reynolds, recently as they begin their identification of osteological elements for aDNA.  Most interested in intact adult molar-dentition, which may provide the valuable genetic material for their testing, they made their way carefully through the collections and handled each element with great respect.  The research that Dr. Bolnick and her student are working on (and more specifically, will publish on) will provide much needed insight into the genetic impact of the earliest Spanish colonial contact with Native Americans in Texas.

TARL has been very willing to work with Dr. Bolnick and her students for a number of reasons, not the least of which is her preference to attempt to obtain the necessary genetic material through a non-destructive technique involving a ‘bath’ for the element selected for aDNA sampling.  Lead author on an article in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology published in 2012, the collaborative journal article describes this non-destructive process.  You can find the article abstract at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22183740

Nondestructive sampling of human skeletal remains yields ancient nuclear and mitochondrial DNA

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2012 Feb;147(2):293-300. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21647. Epub 2011 Dec 20.

Dr. Bolnick is very aware of the sensitive nature of the collections she is accessing and utilizing in her research.  She works with us to ensure that TARL as a UT research entity, and the collections she is working with specifically, are all compliant under NAGPRA laws and regulations.  She has also made clear her willingness to discuss the nature and significance of her research with those Native American communities that have expressed interested in gaining this scientific perspective.  Please follow the status of her projects and publications on our blog as she continues to work with TARL staff and collections, expanding our understanding of the prehistory of Texas and its early inhabitants.  We look forward to her continuing research!

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Research on the Horizon

Wilson-Leonard Remains to be Revisited

by Kerri Wilhelm

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

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

 

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

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

http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/images/ap5.html

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

 

 

Caddo Connections at TARL

Research in the Collections

by Kerri Wilhelm

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

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

 

Dr. Timothy Perttula.
Dr. Timothy Perttula.

 

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

 

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