Category Archives: Projects & Research

The Study of Mossy Grove Culture Ceramics from Sites in Montgomery, Polk, San Jacinto, and Walker Counties by Timothy K. Perttula

Timothy K. Perttula is an Affiliated Researcher with the Texas Archeological Research Lab. This article is part of the December 2017 issue of the TARL Newsletter. 


Woodland period artifact assemblages in inland Southeast Texas dating from as early as ca. 2100 B.P. have ceramic vessels, particularly sandy paste wares of the Goose Creek Plain series; Lower Mississippi Valley Tchefuncte and Marksville wares also occur in low frequencies in inland Southeast Texas Woodland period sites. These sites are part of the Mossy Grove culture (Story 1990:257) (Figure 1). By ca. A.D. 1000, Late Prehistoric ceramic wares were made with grog temper, and these grog-tempered ceramics have stylistic and cultural affiliations with ancestral Caddo groups in the Neches/Angelina and Sabine River basins as well as with coastal Texas groups. The grog-tempered ceramics are likely from vessels obtained from ancestral Caddo groups living in East Texas.

Figure 1. Selected Mossy Grove culture sites in Southeast and East Texas:1, Coral Snake (16SA37); 2, Wolfshead (41SA117); 3, Runnells 1 (41SA87) and Runnells 2 (41SA86); 4, Jonas Short (41SA101); 5, Naconiche Creek (41NA236); 6, Boyette (41NA285); 7, Deshazo (41NA27); 8, George C. Davis (41CE19); 9, Westerman (41HO15); 10, Crawford (41PK69); 11, Burris 1 (41PK88) and Burris 2 (41PK89); 12, Jones Hill (41PK8); 13, 41PK21; 14, Houston (41SJ19); 15, Trichel (41SJ16); 16, Strawberry Hill (41SJ160); 17, 41MQ6; 18, 41MQ5; and 19, 41MQ4. Figure based on Story (1990:Figure 39).

Sandy paste sherds from Goose Creek Plain, var. unspecified vessels are the principal Mossy Grove ceramics (between 80-95 percent) in the 20+ assemblages of ceramic vessel sherds and more than 15,000 sherds I examined for this study from sites in Montgomery (Lake Conroe), Polk (Lake Livingston), San Jacinto, and Walker counties. A small percentage of Goose Creek Plain, var. unspecified sherds have naturally occurring hematite nodules in the paste, and may come from vessels manufactured along the upper Texas Coast (Linda W. Ellis, June 2017 personal communication). The Goose Creek Plain, var. unspecified sherds in general are from compact and smoothed vessels made by coiling, probably jars or deep bowls. The smoothing served to better weld the coils together before firing. The paste is not contorted, thus suggesting that vessels were decently prepared for vessel shaping. The remainder of the ceramics in these collections are from tempered ancestral Caddo ceramics, especially plain or decorated sherds from grog-tempered and grog-tempered-sandy paste vessels (2.7-19.5 percent of the assemblages).

The largest ceramic vessel sherd assemblages are from the Burris 1 (41PK88) (n=6042), Jones Hill (41PK8) (n=2226), Strawberry Hill (41SJ160) (n=1834), 41MQ6 (n=1212), Houston (41SJ19) (n=1077), and Burris 2 (41PK89) (n=468) sites, and these assemblages have been employed for comparisons with each other in terms of paste and temper characteristics as well as decorative methods and elements. The sherd collections I examined are curated at Stephen F. Austin State University and the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory.

Figure 2. Selected decorated sherds and a sherd with a drilled hole from the Strawberry Hill site: a, brushed, Lot 20; b, brushed, Lot 8; c, Wavy incised, Goose Creek Incised, Lot 7; d, diagonal opposed incised lines, Lot 24; e, diagonal opposed incised panels, Lot 0; f, incised-punctated, Lot 0; g, fine line parallel engraved, Lot 0; h, sherd with drilled hole, Goose Creek Plain, Lot 0.

The sandy paste wares in these sites are rarely decorated: from a trace to no more than 2.6 percent of the assemblage, while as
much as 10.6 percent of the ancestral Caddo tempered vessel sherds in the assemblage at the Burris 1 site are decorated. The
most common decorated sandy paste wares are from Goose Creek Incised (Figure 2c), Goose Creek Red-Filmed, Goose Creek
Punctated, lip notched Goose Creek Plain, var. Burris, Goose Creek Incised-Punctated, and Goose Creek Brushed (likely dating to
after ca. A.D. 1200). Aten (1983:Figure 14.5) suggests that all of the decorated sandy paste vessel sherds in these Mossy Grove
sites postdate ca. A.D. 900-1000, and they correlate in time with the introduction and use of ancestral Caddo ceramic wares.
Aten (1983:295) also notes that Caddo ceramics in the Conroe-Livingston area have a “prominent frequency.”

Based on the identification of a number of defined ceramic types, the ancestral Caddo tempered wares from Mossy Grove sites in the Conroe-Livingston area can be sorted into types from three different chronological periods: pre-A.D. 1200, Late Caddo period (ca. A.D. 1400-1680), and Historic Caddo period (ca. A.D. 1680-1730). The suite of Early Caddo period types, including Davis Incised, Dunkin Incised, Holly Fine Engraved (Figure 3a), Kiam Incised, and Weches Fingernail-Impressed, var. Weches is most abundant at the Burris 1 site, but there are examples of Holly Fine Engraved and Kiam Incised from 41MQ6 and Strawberry Hill. The range of defined types are associated with Early Caddo period communities on the Neches River, likely the large Caddo mound center and village at the George C. Davis site (41CE19).

Figure 3. Selected decorative elements on ancestral Caddo tempered fine ware sherds from the Burris 1 site: a, body sherd with curvilinear engraved lines and broad excised zone; b, bottle body sherd with curvilinear engraved lines-bracket element-hooked arm element; c, bottle body sherd with curvilinear bracket element and line with tick marks; d, rim sherd with engraved scroll motif, hatched and cross-hatched scroll fill zones-fingernail punctated row at top of the rim; e-e’, curvilinear engraved and curvilinear hatched areas-excised circle element from vessel section; f, rim sherd with slanting scroll element and curvilinear scroll fill zone; g, bottle
body sherd with curvilinear engraved line-excised pendant triangle elements; h, Keno Trailed body sherd.

Ancestral Caddo period utility ware and fine ware vessel sherds from Late Caddo Ancestral Caddo period utility ware and fine ware vessel sherds from Late Caddo period (ca. A.D. 1400-1680) vessels are more abundant in these Mossy Grove culture sites; two sherds at two Mossy Grove sites (41MQ6 and Burris 1) with asphaltum designs or surface coating are from Rockport wares, and likely date to the same post-A.D. 1400 interval. Given the common occurrence of sherds from tempered Caddo brushed vessels, the post-A.D. 1400 use of these Mossy Grove sites was considerable, given that the manufacture and use of brushed vessels is a feature of post-A.D. 1400 Caddo ceramic traditions in much of East Texas. In general, the identified ancestral Caddo ceramic types, including Bullard Brushed (see Figures 2a-b), Maydelle Incised, Pease Brushed-Incised, and Poynor Engraved (see Figure 3e-e’), point to interrelationships between Mossy Grove peoples and Frankston phase Caddo communities in the upper and middle Neches River basin in East Texas marked by the trade or exchange of ceramic vessels from Caddo groups. The presence of Ripley Engraved sherds (see Figure 3f-g) from the Burris 1 site also suggests contacts between Mossy Grove peoples and Caddo groups affiliated with the Titus phase; these Caddo groups lived in the Big Cypress and mid-Sabine River basins.

The Historic Caddo ceramic types in the Mossy Grove sites are confined to the Burris 1 and Houston sites. The utility wares include Foster Trailed-Incised, var. Moore and Spradley Brushed-Incised types, and their occurrence suggest wide-ranging contacts between Mossy Grove groups and ancestral Hasinai Caddo and Kadohadacho communities in the Neches-Angelina (e.g., Spradley Brushed-Incised) and the Red River (e.g., Foster Trailed-Incised) basins, respectively. The same can be said for the fine wares, as Patton Engraved (which is present at the Burris 1 site) occurs in Hasinai Caddo communities on the Neches-Angelina, and Keno Trailed vessels (see Figure 3h) are most common in the Red River basin among Kadohadacho communities.

The adoption and use of sandy paste Goose Creek Plain pottery by Woodland period hunter-gatherer foragers in eastern and southeastern Texas was apparently a better way to cook foods than the hot rock cooking/stone boiling in hide-lined pits or basketry of earlier times because stews/broths could instead be cooked and simmered in ceramic vessels. Traditional and new food stuffs could be prepared in ways that were more effective, leaving the food in the pot rather than to be subject to loss over open flames. The introduction of this new cooking technology after ca. 2500 years ago in Southeast and East Texas was not apparently associated with the use of any agricultural domesticate or the simmering of starchy foods. Only after ca. A.D. 800, in East Texas, were domesticated plant foods beginning to be prepared with a cooking technology where foods were cooked in ceramic vessels that were set directly over or in fire.


References Cited

Aten, L. E. 1983 Indians of the Upper Texas Coast. Academic Press, New York.

Story, D. A. 1990 Cultural History of the Native Americans. In The Archeology and Bioarcheology of the Gulf Coastal Plain, by D. A. Story, J. A. Guy, B. A. Burnett, M. D. Freeman, J. C. Rose, D. G. Steele, B. W. Olive, and K. J. Reinhard, pp. 163-366.  2 Vols. Research Series No. 38.  Arkansas Archeological Survey Research Series, Fayetteville.

Analysis of Late Archaic Burned Rock Feature Cluster at the Rob Roy Site (41TV41), Travis County, Texas by Dan Prikryl

Dan Prikryl is an Affiliated Researcher with the Texas Archeological Research Lab. This article is part of the December 2017 issue of the TARL Newsletter.


In the December 2016 issue of the TARL newsletter, I provided general background information on Works Progress Administration (WPA)-era excavations at the Rob Roy Site, 41TV41, which is located on Lake Austin in western Travis County, Texas. My work on these materials has continued with my most recent analysis focusing on the 21 deeply buried burned rock features that are present within a previously unrecognized Late Archaic I Period component as defined by Johnson (1995:73, 89-98).

One of the most interesting aspects of the analysis of these features concerns an obvious cluster of seven individual burned rock features that together form a large irregular circle. The University of Texas archaeologists who led the field project recognized this cluster, but they provided no interpretation (Woolsey and Oberg 1939:53). This cluster consists of Feature #26, a 1.7-meter (m) diameter, well-defined, basin-shaped circular hearth/earth oven, and six surrounding satellite burned rock features. A circular, 60 to 120 cm wide area that is mostly void of burned rocks exists between the outer edges of Feature #26 and the inner edges of the six satellite features (Figure #1). None of the six satellites are basin-shaped. Instead, they consist of one flat, dense continuous burned rock pavement (Feature 29), four flat, amorphous burned rock groupings (Features #24, 25, 28 and 30), and one somewhat circular burned rock heap (Feature #27). Several of the satellites cover quite large areas including Feature #28 which measures 3.00 x 1.11 m and Feature #29 which covers an area measuring at least 2.76 x 1.62 m.

Overall, the irregular circle formed by the seven features extends 5.97 m on an east-west line. The total length on a north-south line is unknown because two of the satellites (Features #27 and 29) continue into an unexcavated area. The exposed part on a north-south line covers a length of 3.05 m.

Figure 1. View of Portion of Feature Cluster: Note Central Hearth/Earth Oven Surrounded by Area Generally Void of Burned Rocks. Several Satellite Features are Visible Beyond the Void Area.

With the exceptions of Feature #25 and 30, charcoal and ash were reported as present in all features that comprise the
cluster. Bison bones were present among the burned rocks in Features #26, 29 and 30 with the most noteworthy faunal
specimen being a bison skull found in the top center of Feature #26. The only diagnostic artifact near feature grouping is a
Marshall point that was found between Features #28 and 30 at an elevation about 15 cm above these features.

The irregular circle is like some other feature patterns reported at sites in Central and West Texas that have either been as interpreted as aboriginal structures (Lintz et al. 1995; Johnson 1997) or as incipient burned rock middens (Luke 1983; Hixson 2014). All together, these feature patterns include examples that have been dated to the Early Archaic, Middle Archaic, Late Prehistoric Austin Phase, and Historic Indian periods.

Aside from one hollow area in one of the satellite features, there are no other apparent rock-free spaces within any of the other satellite features that would have been left by wooden posts to support the walls of a structure. Given the overall nature, sizes and shapes of satellite features, especially Features #27-29, the cluster of features more closely resembles an incipient burned rock midden. Hixson (2014) has provided a thorough discussion of the incipient burned rock midden model in which he proposes that these circular features consist of a central earth oven surrounded by satellite clusters of burned rocks that represent earth oven clean-out material resulting from repeated use of the central feature. Hixson (ibid) states that the generally 60 to 120 cm wide circular, vacant space that exists between the central feature and the satellite rock clusters could either be the workspace for the aboriginal people using the central cooking feature or could represent the eroded remains of a former circular berm of stockpiled dirt used in association with earth oven cooking.

Since the Rob Roy Site is situated on an alluvial terrace, it is probable that the incipient burned rock midden was buried during a flood event before continued use would have led to the development of a denser, mounded burned rock midden.


References Cited

Hixson, C. A. 2014 A New Hypothesis to Explain the Large Burned Rock Features with Satellite Clusters. In A Cultural Resource Reconnaissance Survey of Select Portions of the Lake Buchanan Shoreline Exposed by Recent Droughts, Burnet and Llano Counties, Texas by C. A. Hixson, D. J. Prikryl, and A. F. Malof. Lower Colorado River Authority, Austin.

Johnson, L. 1995 Past Cultures and Climates at Jonas Terrace, 41ME29, Medina County, Texas. Office of The State Archeologist Report 40. Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Historical Commission, Austin.
1997 The Lions Creek Site (41BT105): Aboriginal Houses and Other Remains at a Prehistoric Rancheria in the Texas Hill Country (Burnet County).  Archeology Studies Program, Report 1, Environmental Affairs Division, Texas Department of Transportation; Report 41, Office of the State Archeologist. Texas Historical Commission, Austin.

Lintz, C., A. Treece, and F. Oglesby1995 The Early Archaic Structure at the Turkey Bend Ranch Site (41CC112), Concho County, Texas. In Advances in Texas Archeology, Contributions from Cultural Resource Management, edited by J. E. Bruseth and T. K. Perttula. Cultural Resource Management Report 5. Texas Historical                   Commission, Austin.

Luke, C. J. 1983 The Musk Hog Canyon Project, Crockett County, Texas. Publications in Archaeology, Report No. 24. State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, Austin.

Woolsey, A. M. and K. Oberg 1939 Field Notes, Site 1, Miller Lake, Burnt Hollow, Roy Ranch. WPA Archeological Project Sponsored by the Anthropology Department, The University of Texas, Austin.

Upcoming Investigations at Firecracker Pueblo and Related Sites in the Jornada Mogollon, by Kevin Hanselka

Kevin Hanselka is a regional archeologist with TxDOT. This article is part of the September 2017 TARL newsletter. 


Firecracker Pueblo is a well-known archeological site and State
Archeological Landmark located within the proposed right of way for the Northeast Parkway, a new-location highway northeast of El Paso planned to ease heavy traffic along Interstate 10. Excavations here in the 1980s found that early in the 15th century, desert farmers established a small village or hamlet on the Firecracker site, probably with their corn and bean fields planted somewhere nearby. Early on these farmers built at least 17 “pit houses” (roughly circular or oval houses built over shallow pits) on the site, but later constructed an above-ground adobe-walled structure with about 16 rooms on top of the former pit houses.

In 2016 archeologists working on behalf of TxDOT surveyed the right of way in preparation for the Northeast Parkway project. Although the adobe walls and pit house foundations are not visible on the surface, the survey crew found a dense concentration of chipped stone artifacts and fragments of decorated ceramic pots near the location of the previous excavations. In addition to Firecracker, the crew also explored three other similar sites along the project corridor with dense surface scatters of prehistoric artifacts. These artifact concentrations suggest that unknown pit houses or adobe-walled rooms may yet await discovery under the surrounding sand dunes. Therefore additional investigations must happen on Firecracker and these nearby sites before construction on Northeast Parkway can start.

Figure 1. Ceramic sherds on the surface near Firecracker Pueblo, northeast of El Paso.

Testing and excavations on the four sites are planned for the upcoming year or two. These new TxDOT investigations will complement previous findings from Firecracker Pueblo (much of which remains unpublished) and enhance our knowledge about the lives of El Paso phase (ca. AD 1300 – 1450) Jornada Mogollon farmers. As this ongoing project develops, TxDOT continues to work closely with the Tigua Tribe of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso as we weigh potential impacts to these and other cultural resources along the Northeast Parkway.

Figure 2. Overview of the Firecracker Pueblo site on the north side of US 54, showing the location of the excavated adobe-walled rooms and underlying pit houses (no longer visible from the surface).

Documentation of Caddo Ceramic Vessels Returned from the Arizona State Museum, by Timothy K. Perttula

Timothy K. Perttula is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article was part of the September 2017 TARL newsletter. 


In the summer of 2017, 21 ancestral Caddo ceramic vessels held since 1933 by the Gila Pueblo Museum and then by the Arizona State Museum were returned to the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin (TARL). These vessels had not been properly or fully studied and documented when the University of Texas exchanged these vessels, so the purpose in documenting these vessels now is primarily to determine the stylistic (i.e., decorative methods, motifs, and decorative elements) and technological (i.e., vessel form, temper, and vessel size) character of the vessels that are in the collection, and assessing their cultural relationships and stylistic associations, along with their likely age. In 1933, little was known about the cultural and temporal associations of ancestral Caddo ceramic vessels from East Texas, but that has changed considerably since that time (e.g., Perttula 2013).

Ceramic Vessel Exchange

Harold Gladwin of the Gila Pueblo Museum (GPM) in Globe, Arizona, first proposed to The University of Texas (UT) an exchange of ceramic materials in November 1931 with Dr. J. E. Pearce of UT. Pearce was not prepared to exchange any ceramic vessels or sherd collections then because the ceramic materials in his possession had not been studied because they had only recently been recovered from excavations at East Texas Caddo sites.

However, by November 1933, Pearce felt an exchange of Southwestern vessels with ancestral Caddo vessels between the GPM and UT was worth doing, and 20 Caddo vessels from eight East Texas sites were selected by E. B. Sayles of the GPM. After Pearce obtained permission from UT President H. Y. Benedict and the Board of Regents, the vessels were shipped to the GPM. The eight ancestral Caddo sites that had vessels selected for the exchange included the Richard Patton Farm (41AN26, 2 vessels); Goode Hunt Farm (41CS23, 2 vessels); Mrs. H. L. Culpepper Farm (41HP1, 1 vessel); H. R. Taylor (41HS3, 7 vessels); T. M. Sanders Farm (41LR2, 2 vessels); Hooper Glover Farm (41MX4, 1 vessel); Russell Bros. Farm (41TT7, 1 vessel); and the J. M. Riley Farm (41UR2, 4 vessels). The vessels remained in Arizona museums until the summer of 2017.

Figure 1. Maxey Noded Redware bottle from the T.M. Sanders site (41LR2).

The exchanged vessels from the T. M. Sanders site are from burial features in a Middle Caddo period (ca. A.D. 1200-1400) Sanders phase mound on the Red River. They include a Maxey Noded Redware bottle (Figure 1) and an East Incised bowl.

The fine ware and utility ware vessels from the Culpepper Farm, H. R. Taylor, Hooper Glover, Russell Brothers, and J. M. Riley sites are from Late Caddo period Titus phase sites (dating broadly from ca. A.D. 1430-1680) in the Big Cypress and Sulphur River basins in East Texas. The fine ware vessels include Ripley Engraved (Figure 2) and Taylor Engraved carinated bowls, a Wilder Engraved, var. Wilder
bottle, a Bailey Engraved olla, a red-slipped bowl, and Ripley Engraved compound bowls, while the utility wares are Bullard Brushed, Harleton Appliqued (Figure 3), and Karnack Brushed-Incised jars.

Figure 2. Ripley Engraved, var. McKinney carinated bowl from the H.R. Taylor site (41HS3).
Figure 3. Harleton Appliqued jar from the H.R. Taylor site (41HS3).

Finally, the ceramic vessels from the Richard Patton and Goode Hunt sites are from late 17th to early 18th century Historic Caddo burial features in the upper Neches River and Big Cypress Creek drainage basins, respectively. These burial features were in cemeteries created and used by Hasinai and Nasoni Caddo peoples. The historic Caddo ceramics from the Richard Patton site include two different varieties of Patton Engraved (Figure 4), while both vessels from the Goode Hunt site are Simms Engraved carinated bowls (Figure 5).

Figure 4. Patton Engraved, var. Freeman jar from the Richard Patton site (41AN26).
Figure 5. Simms Engraved carinated bowl from the Goode Hunt site (41CS23).

Thanks to Lauren Bussiere and Marybeth Tomka at TARL for facilitating access to the study of these vessels, and for providing photographs of the vessels taken by the Arizona State Museum. Kevin Stingley kindly assisted with the vessel documentation. All photos courtesy Arizona State Museum.


References Cited:

Perttula, T. K.
2013 Caddo Ceramics in East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 84:181-212.

Three Caddo Neche Cluster Sites in the Middle Neches River Drainage, Cherokee County, Texas, by Kevin Stingley and Timothy K. Perttula

Timothy K. Perttula and Kevin Stingley are visiting researchers at TARL. This article is part of the September 2017 TARL newsletter.


During the summer of 1969 while doing fieldwork at the George C. Davis site (41CE19), Dr. Dee Ann Story sent out two of her students, Dan Witter and George Kegley, to survey sites in areas to the north of the Davis site (Story 1997). One of the sites recorded by Kegley and Witter was 41CE47. In the spring of 2017 Stingley revisited the site and recorded two new adjacent sites. This article will describe the work conducted at the sites and the range of artifacts found there.

During Stingley’s initial survey of the site area the landowner was able to point out the location of two shovel tests excavated by Kegley when he recorded the site; four ceramic sherds were found in these two shovel tests. Also pointed out was a section of Walnut Branch, a small tributary stream of Box’s Creek, where Kegley found 70 Caddo ceramic sherds; these sherds are now housed at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. Kegley noted in his site report that 41CE47 was in danger of eroding into the creek bed. However, around 1990 the creek changed course bypassing an oxbow that was dangerously close to that site.

The landowner noted several areas in the Walnut Branch floodplain where he had found a few surface artifacts, but said he did not know of any shovel testing ever having been done there. Before starting any shovel testing Stingley walked a 400-meter section of this east-west flowing creek immediately south of 41CE47. In the gravel bed he found 136 Caddo ceramic sherds; 55 plain and 81 decorated vessel sherds. A few lithic artifacts included pieces of petrified wood lithic debris and part of the polished bit from a greenish-gray siliceous shale celt.

Stingley began shovel testing at the westernmost end of a large field and floodplain that stretched 700 meters east-west and between 60-250 meters north-south. The western area was recorded as 41CE485. A total of 31 positive shovel tests were completed there that had 217 ceramic sherds, split almost evenly between plain and decorated sherds. Seven of the shovel tests in three spatial clusters contained between 10-30 sherds and one had a lens of ash and charcoal indicating a possible pit/hearth feature. Other artifacts recovered from this area included 13 pieces of burned clay, a pipe sherd, four charred nutshells, animal bone, and wood charcoal. A high water table limited the depth of shovel tests with most only reaching 40-50 cmbs.

Next, intensive shovel testing was done at the Walnut Branch site (41CE47), the original location recorded by Kegley. This work determined that the site was ca. 110 x 100 m in size. Seventy-two shovel tests returned cultural materials in the fine sandy loam of the Walnut Branch floodplain; again, a high water table limited the depth of shovel tests and the clay B-horizon was never reached in this area. A total of 480 ceramic sherds were found in the shovel tests, ranging from 1-26 sherds. Two different spatial clusters at the Walnut Branch site contained high sherd concentrations. These spatial artifact clusters likely represent at least 2-3 Caddo household compounds. Found in these areas were burned clay, wood charcoal, nutshell, animal bone, a chipped stone tool, a grinding stone, red ochre, a polished pebble, and a small lead ball (Figure 1a).

Figure 1. Lead balls from the Walnut Branch (41CE47) and 41CE486 sites: a, ST 78, 0-20 cmbs, Walnut Branch site; b, ST163, 0-20 cmbs, 41CE486.

Immediately northeast of the Walnut Branch site was a slight elevated area of ca. 2.0 acres where site 41CE486 was identified and recorded. A total of 36 shovel tests contained cultural materials. Because of its slight elevation above the floodplain several shovel tests reached the clay B-horizon. The A-horizon sediments were strong brown to dark brown fine sandy loam. The shovel tests at 41CE486 recovered 237 ceramic sherds, again almost evenly split between plain and decorated sherds. The density of sherds from these 36 shovel tests point to two areas within the site that likely represent one or two household compounds and a plaza between them. Also found in these areas were an elbow pipe sherd, burned clay, wood charcoal, animal bone, lithic debris, a ground stone tool, and another small lead ball (see Figure 1b) similar in size to the lead ball found approximately 125 meters away at the Walnut Branch site.

A wide range of archeological material was found at the three sites in the shovel testing. Of the 177 total shovel tests excavated by Stingley, 79% were positive. More than 205 ceramic vessel sherds were found in the gravel bed of Walnut Branch by Kegley and Stingley combined. In total 1068 ceramic vessel sherds, five ceramic elbow pipe sherds, two clay coils, 30 pieces of burned clay, two chipped stone tools (including a Turney arrow point), 21 pieces of lithic debris, seven ground stone tools, two early 18th century lead balls, 21 pieces of wood charcoal, five charred nutshells, and 13 small pieces of animal bone were recovered. The ceramic sherds were from vessels that were predominately grog-tempered followed by sherds from vessels with hematite temper, and 19% or less had bone temper. Wood charcoal, nutshell, and animal bone are not abundant at any of the three sites indicating the poor preservation of organic remains in the moist fine sandy loam of the sites. Caddo ceramic vessel sherds from the following types were found at one or more of the sites: Patton Engraved (Figure 2) is the most common fine ware; along with only a very few Poynor Engraved and Mayhew Rectilinear sherds, Bullard Brushed and Maydelle Incised jars and sherds of Lindsey Grooved and Killough Pinched are in the assemblages at each site.

Figure 2. Patton Engraved, var. Walnut Branch rim sherd from the surface collection along Walnut Branch.

The artifacts from the sites indicate they were occupied mainly during the Historic Caddo Allen phase (post A.D.1680), with some limited use during the Late Caddo Frankston phase particularly at 41CE485. The archeological evidence also suggests that these sites were part of a Caddo Neche cluster that includes sites from the
Bowles Creek area, along the middle Neches River, and from a late occupation at the George C. Davis site. The two 18th century lead balls found at 41CE47 and 41CE486 suggest that Caddo peoples were in contact with Europeans in the area. Further work at the sites is planned, including remote sensing and the excavation of 1 x 1 m units in the areas of the different artifact clusters, hoping to identify cultural features from Caddo houses and pit features in outdoor activity areas.


References Cited:

Story, D.A.
1997 1968-1970 Archeological Investigations at the George C. Davis Site, Cherokee County, Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 68:1-113.

New Clovis Discoveries from the Wood Springs Site (41LB15), Liberty County, Texas, by Wilson W. Crook, III

Wilson W. Crook, III, is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of TARL’s September 2017 newsletter. 


The Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas is currently in the process of renovating its entire museum display. A major component of their future exhibits will be the prehistory of Southeast Texas utilizing the extensive Andy Kyle Artifact Collection. The collection of prehistoric artifacts was a gift to the museum by the late Mr. Andy Kyle, long-time resident of Liberty County and avid avocational archeologist. The collection comprises well over 30,000 artifacts from 95 archeological sites from nine counties in Southeast Texas. These include sites in Liberty, Polk, Jasper, Sabine, Tyler, Hardin, Angelina, San Augustine, and Newton Counties. In early 2017, members of the Houston Archeological Society (HAS) were asked to assist the Sam Houston Regional Library’s project by going through the entire Andy Kyle Artifact Collection and identifying distinctive artifacts from each chronological period for the new display. A number of hitherto unrecorded discoveries were made during this process which will be the subject of a several future publications from the HAS. One of the more spectacular finds was the discovery of several diagnostic Clovis artifacts from the Wood Springs site (41LB15). The artifacts mark the first reported occurrence of Clovis people in Liberty County (Beaver and Meltzer 2007) and push the date for the first occupation of the area back to at least 13,000 years ago.

The Wood Springs Site (41LB15)

The Wood Springs site is located approximately 3 kilometers northwest of Liberty, Texas on the west side of a small stream known as Wood Springs Creek or Atascosito Springs. This stream is fed by several perennial springs and is a minor tributary of the Trinity River, which is located 0.8 km to the west. Occupational material at Wood Springs covers at least 0.2 Ha (0.5 acres) and possibly as much as 2 Ha (5 acres). Based on artifacts collected by Mr. Kyle, the Wood Springs site represents a long-term occupation which extends from the earliest Paleo-Indian period (Clovis) through the Late Prehistoric.

Clovis Occupation at the Wood Springs Site

A total of 9 artifacts of probable Clovis affinity were identified in the Kyle Collection from the Wood Springs site. These include the bases of two fluted points (Figure 1), two large blades, two overshot flakes, two small (<50 mm) prismatic blades, and a side-scraper / perforator made from a broken blade. The artifacts have been studied in detail including physical measurements, high power microscopic examination, and trace element geochemical analysis using X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF). In addition, two fragments of proboscidean enamel were found in the collection which are believed to be part of a mastodon molar (Mammut sp.).

Figure 1. Two fluted point bases from the Wood Springs Site (41LB15), Liberty County.

All nine of the lithic artifacts of probable Clovis affinity are made from high quality chert that is not native to the Southeast Texas area. The artifacts also display a strong yellow to yellow-orange fluorescence under both short and long-wave UV radiation which is characteristic of Edwards Plateau chert (Hofman et al. 1991; Hillsman 1992).

Measurement of the two blades using the comparative methodology developed by Collins (1999) and Collins and Lohse (2004) for the Gault project show the blades to be similar in terms of length, width, and thickness ratios to Clovis blades from the Timber Fawn site in Harris County (Crook et al. 2015) as well as blades from the Gault (41BL323) and Keven Davis (41NV659) sites.

Ongoing research is investigating the trace element geochemistry of the artifacts in an attempt to source the chert material. These efforts will also try and determine if there is a relationship between the Clovis occupation at Wood Springs and other Clovis sites in southeast Texas, notably the Timber Fawn site located 28 miles to the west in Harris County. The Wood Springs site, which is located only 0.4 miles from the Sam Houston Regional Library, is also being reinvestigated by the HAS to see if further artifacts of Clovis affinity can be recovered.


References Cited:

Beaver, Michael R. and David J. Meltzer
2007 Exploring Variation in Paleoindian Life Ways: The Third Revised Edition of the Texas Clovis Fluted Point Survey. Bulletin of the Texas
Archeological Society, 78:65-100.

Collins, Michael B.
1999 Clovis Blade Technology. The University of Texas Press, Austin.

Collins, M. B. and J. C. Lohse
2004 The Nature of Clovis Blades and Blade Cores. In Entering North America, edited by D. B. Madsen, pp. 159-83. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Crook, Wilson W., III, Lenore A. Psencik, Linda C. Gorski and Thomas L. Nuckols
2016 The Timber Fawn Clovis Site (41HR1165): An Early Paleoamerican Occupation In Kingwood, Harris County, Texas. Report of the Houston Archeological Society No. 26, Houston.

Hillsman, Mathew J.
1992 Evaluation of Visible and Ultraviolet Excited Attributes of Some Texas and Macroscopically Similar New Mexico Cherts. Unpublished Masters’ Thesis, Eastern New Mexico University.

Hofman, Jack L., Lawrence C. Todd and Michael B. Collins
1991 Identification of Central Texas Edwards Chert at the Folsom and Lindenmeier Sites. Plains Anthropologist 36(137):281-395.

Professor J.E. Pearce at the Gault Site, Bell County, Texas, by D. Clark Wernecke

Dr. D. Clark Wernecke is the Executive Director of the Gault School of Archeological Research. This article appeared in TARL’s newsletter in two parts. Part I was published in the July 2017 issue and Part II was published in the September 2017 issue. 


James Edwin Pearce was a true renaissance man. Born in Roxboro, North Carolina in October of 1868, Pearce moved with his family to Hunt County, Texas in 1871 (Denton 2016). He graduated from the University of Texas (there was only one then) with a B.A. in Literature in 1894 and an M. A. the following year. He began doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, then switched his studies from history and sociology to anthropology, continuing to study intermittently while he began a 22-year long career as principal of Austin High School in Austin. He also studied for a year at the School of Anthropology in Paris in 1900. Pearce began teaching at the University of Texas in 1912 and became a full-time professor in 1917, and in 1919 became the department chair, changing the name of the department from Institutional History to
Anthropology (Denton 2016). He conducted some of the first professional archeological excavations in the state, fostered some of Texas’ up-and-coming archeologists, and was a champion for the discipline of anthropology and archeological research. Pearce was also the instigator and pushed for a State Museum in Austin in the late 1920s and did establish the first anthropology museum at UT (Tunnel 2000), contributed to the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society (Pearce 1932), patented a new kind of plow (patent #1,111,613), and was known as a grower of improved varieties of pecans (Bedichek 1928). One of J. E. Pearce’s most famous publications was Tales that Dead Men Tell, published in 1935 (Tunnell 2000).

Professor J.E. Pearce

Mr. Pearce was interested in the burned rock middens of central Texas and in October of 1929 he sent Henry Ramseur, his field foreman, and three laborers to the Gault farm to excavate the large midden there. He later described it in a nomination for National Park status as:

“One of the largest mounds of its kind in Texas. A portion of the mound has been excavated yielding an abundance of beautiful flint artifacts. Funds available do not permit complete excavation. The site is being destroyed by haphazard digging of landowner and others who dig the specimens for sale.” (Pearce 1934).

Pearce’s excavations lasted eight weeks in the fall of 1929 and it is possible Mr. Ramseur returned alone in March of 1930 (Barnard 1939). The crew excavated about a third of the midden by their account and recovered over 3,000 artifacts and two fragmentary human burials. The midden was hand-excavated by broadcast archaeological methods employing shovels as the primary excavation tool. This excavation strategy included a base line incorporating a “zero point” (site datum) laid out parallel to the long axis of the site. Along this baseline five to ten foot square units were established in a continuous row with workmen assigned to each square. They hand dug the trench in each square along the baseline running the length of the site where possible. The trench is estimated to between 1 and 1.5 meters (m) deep based on photographs of the work (Figure 2). The initial trench was just wide enough to allow an individual in the trench to carefully examine the contents of the wall opposite from the baseline. Cultural artifacts were handpicked from the one wall, and following that, the collected wall was knocked down into the bottom of the trench and those sediments were shoveled up and out and spread across the ground, where they would again be searched for artifacts.

Figure 2. Hired laborer and Henry Ramseur (right) digging the burned rock midden at the Gault
site. Photo copyright TARL.

The excavators worked away from the baseline and the digging progressed through the midden deposits. The in-situ artifacts removed from the walls were recorded as “low”, “medium”, or “high” according to their vertical position in the wall. Pearce described his methodology in detail in a “Handbook for Field Work in Archaeology” (Pearce Collection, n.d., Pearce Papers, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin). Following Pearce’s excavations, the trench evidently remained open for some time as attested to by the correspondence between James Pearce and Henry Gault held in TARL archives regarding backfilling. Mr. Gault filled the trenches for Professor Pearce in February of 1931.

In 1932 Mr. Pearce described the archaeology of the mounds he was excavating at the Gault site. He was convinced the “burnt rock mounds” of central Texas were “kitchen middens” that sometimes also held human burials. He thought he recognized three stratified cultures: “the lowest a crude pure hunter type, the middle a higher hunter type with a great multiplicity of flint implements but without the bow and with little if any horticulture, and the upper layer culture is essentially a hunter type.” (Pearce 1932:49). Mr. Pearce felt the highest strata, with flint tools, potsherds, and grinding stones, represented a cultural adaptation of people moving into central Texas from east Texas and gradually reverting to nomad
hunters. The Pearce excavations revealed a broad, dense burned rock midden that was at least 2 m thick and yielded mostly Archaic artifacts.

The only records of this work are a few photographs and two short reports to Dr. E. T. Miller, Director of the Fund for Research in the Social Sciences at the UT (Pearce 1930a, b). Although some artifacts were traded by Mr. Pearce during ensuing years, the remainder of the artifacts, numbering 3,332, and two human burials are housed today at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at UT in Austin. The artifacts recovered from the Gault site were identified by Mr. Pearce using one of 15 terms, with roughly two-thirds of the total identified as either spear or arrow heads. Some of the more unusual terms assigned to the recognized artifacts were “war club spikes” along with “hoe,” a “bone crusher,” and a “limestone ornament.” The Pearce collection was reexamined in 2004 for the first time since 1930 and reclassified and identified using modern terms and categories by Elton Prewitt, a renowned Texas projectile point analyst and longtime Texas archaeologist. This updated analysis identified 37 diagnostic projectile point types from Paleoindian Wilson points to Late Prehistoric Darl/Zephyr types with representative artifacts from all known cultural time periods in between. Statistically the Archaic point types clearly dominate the Pearce collections. In contrast, only one Wilson and no Clovis types were represented. Except for the projectile points, very few other specimens are time diagnostic although a Clovis blade was recognized. Other tool classes represented include bifaces, scrapers, unifaces, drills, gouges, choppers, adzes, modified flakes, and a few bone specimens that include awls, billets, and hammerstones. Ground stone is minimally represented by 10 manos and one metate.

Figure 3. Lithic tools from the Gault site, now housed in the Pearce Collection at TARL.

As was the custom at the time J. E. Pearce traded artifacts collected from the Gault site as typical central Texas artifacts to other archaeologists and researchers in return for artifacts from their area. A small collection, for example, is in the Huntington Library in
California. He also traded 22 projectile points from the Gault site for some Caddoan pottery. J. Alden Mason of the University of Pennsylvania Museum visited Pearce during his “Texas and Southwest Expedition” (also known as the Hering Expedition). In a letter from October of 1929, Mason wrote he was “from Tuesday night until yesterday (Saturday) with Dr. Pearce at the University there. He took me to several of his excavations where I collected a few things and he promises us a good selection from his material in return for some of our publications” (A. Mason to H.H.F. Jayne, letter, 12 October 1929, Museum Texas Expedition papers, University Penn Museum). Seventy-eight lithic artifacts from Florence, Texas listed as coming from the “Dr. Pearce Mound” and “Henry Gault Mound” are in the University Penn Museum (curation lots 29-27-817 to 894) (Allessandro Pezzati, personal communication 2014).

In a 1934 preliminary survey that led to the National Park Service (NPS) Park, Parkway, and Recreational Area Study Act of 1936 the NPS asked for information on recreational and historical resources. Pearce was quick to write a recommendation for the “Gault Burnt Rock Mound” and noted that he regretted that funds were not available to completely excavate the site. We don’t know if he intended to revisit the Gault site as his dream of building a first class museum in Texas, the Texas Memorial Museum, finally came to fruition and in June of 1938 he was appointed the first director. James Edwin Pearce died on October 22, 1938.


References Cited:

Barnard, Helen, D.
1939 Early History of Research in Texas Archeology by the Department of Anthropology, and the history of the Anthropology Museum of the University
of Texas. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin.

Denton, Lynn
2016 “They are Hauling off Bits of Texas”: James E. Pearce and the Effort to Establish a State Museum. Southwestern Historical Quarterly 120(2):146-161.

Bedichek, Roy
1928 Off-Sides. Interscholastic Leaguer. 12(4): 2. Austin, TX

Pearce, James E.
1930a Report to Director E.T. Miller, Fund for the Research in the Social Sciences, February 2, Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
1930b Report to Director E.T. Miller, Fund for the Research in the Social Sciences, November10, Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
1932 The Present Status of Texas Archeology. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society, 4:44-54.
1934 Response to National Park Service Archeological Survey. Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.

Tunnell, Curtis
2000 In Their Own Words: Stories from Some Pioneer Texas Archaeologists. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 71:1-146.

Infierno Village (41VV446): A Summary Status Review, by Elton R. Prewitt

Elton R. Prewitt is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter. 


The current work at the site of Infierno Village in Val Verde county is a continuation of that begun by Dave Dibble and a crew of volunteers, myself included, in 1974 through 1976. At that time, Dibble identified three areas where clusters of circularor semi-circular stone alignments were present, ostensibly representing the locations of prehistoric wikiup-style structures. After laying out a large survey grid, the team identified about 75 to 80 stone alignments, establishing the basic shape and size of the village. It stretches roughly 800m NNE to SSW, and reaches widths of 150m–unique in this area and potentially extremely significant for understanding prehistoric lifeways. A few selected artifacts were collected during this survey, and included a small number of untyped arrow points and end scrapers, and a couple of brownware potsherds. Occasional burned rocks and small thermal features were noted in the survey.

The middle complex at Infierno Village. This is only one of three large clusters of alignments and features at the site.

Work at Infierno stopped until 1999, when another crew of volunteers and I began re-mapping the stone features with the assistance of a total station. Between 1999 and 2001, we took transit readings near the center of each identified stone alignment in addition to topographic readings. For ease of reference, the three groups of stone alignments identified by Dibble were formally designated as the North, Middle, and South clusters. Scale drawings were made of six of the stone alignments. As in the 1970s, we stopped work at the site after access was denied.

After a number of casual visits in the interim, I again resumed work at Infierno Village in 2016 with assistance from a few select volunteers. The original grid points were relocated and readings were taken at each using a hand-held GPS unit. GPS readings were also taken near the center of as many of the stone alignments and thermal features as could be located. Volunteers Dave Gage and Mark Willis took digital images of the site and many of its features using drones and hand-held cameras. This was followed by collection of high-resolution drone imagery in December 2016. Work done by Willis and by Sandy Hannum has allowed us to combine the original grid, the drone imagery, GPS data, and Google Earth layers into a precise, layered map of all the known features of the site, with the majority of the features clearly or partly visible.

High-resolution imagery of one of the many stone alignments in the North complex, Feature 3.
Scale drawing of Feature 3, Infierno Village.

In sum, 150 stone alignment features at Infierno Village have been verified by visual means using the drone imagery overlain on Google Earth. Another 66 potential stone features await revisit and verification. Analysis of the drone imagery allowed us to identify 28 visible possible stone features that were not included in the 216 locations identified in person by our teams at the site.

Further study of Infierno Village has potential to greatly deepen our understanding of local populations’ movement on the landscape in prehistoric times, as well as methods for resource procurement and social cohesion. I suspect that the site was used over a very long period of time, from the Late Prehistoric back into the Archaic period and perhaps even earlier. Building this precise map of the many features at the site is just the first step to investigating the long history of occupation at Infierno Village.

Reanalysis of the Ceramic and Lithic Artifacts from the Snipes Site (41CS8) in the Sulphur River Basin of East Texas, By Timothy K. Perttula and Julian A. Sitters

Dr. Tim Perttula and Drew Sitters are visiting researchers at TARL. This article is part of the June 2017 TARL newsletter. 


The Snipes site (41CS8) is a multi-component prehistoric site on the Sulphur River in Cass County, Texas (Figure 1). The site was found and investigated as part of a River Basin Survey project done in 1952 directed by Edward B. Jelks (1961). We recently had the opportunity to take another look at the collections from the site (held by TARL) to better understand the native history of the site, and to clarify the character of the material culture remains that are associated with the different periods of use at the Snipes site since the Late Paleoindian period.

Figure 1. The location of the Snipes Site in East Texas. Figure prepared by Lance Trask.

 

The main feature of the Snipes site is a cemetery with nine burials; two of the burial features had multiple individuals (two or three persons). The burials had been placed in pits in either flexed or extended positions. Funerary offerings with the burials included a few grog-tempered ceramic vessels, including one Coles Creek Incised, var. Stoner bowl (Figure 2a-b) dating from ca. A.D. 550-700 (Brown 1998:8, 53) and several small plain bowls and jars of the Williams Plain type, as well as lithic artifacts (primarily pieces of lithic debris) in Burial 1 (Jelks 1961:44). These funerary offerings indicate that the cemetery was used almost exclusively during the Late Woodland period. There is one ancestral Caddo vessel from a burial excavated by I. B. Price at the Snipes site that may be associated with the Early Caddo period use of the site.

Figure 2. Coles Creek Incised, var. Stoner vessel from the Snipes Site. Above: side view. Below: looking down at the incised lip line. Photographs taken by Bo Nelson.

The lithic and/or ceramic artifacts recovered in the burial features as well as habitation contexts at the Snipes site indicate a very limited use of the site during the Late Paleoindian and Late Archaic periods, based on finds of a single possible Plainview lanceolate and late Archaic Wells and Yarbrough types. The principal occupation of the site took place from ca. A.D. 400-800 by a Fourche Maline culture group, and is marked by Gary, var. Camden dart points, ca. A.D. 700-800 arrow points (Friley and Steiner types), grog-, grog-bone-, and bone-tempered Williams Plain and Cooper Boneware sherds and vessels, and Coles Creek Incised, var. Stoner and var. Ely vessels and/or sherds.

There were also ancestral Caddo settlements at the Snipes site. The first dates from ca. A.D. 800-1200, in the Formative and Early Caddo periods. The ceramics from this component include sherds from Davis Incised, Dunkin Incised, Kiam Incised, Crockett Curvilinear Incised, Pennington Punctated-Incised, and Holly Fine Engraved/ Spiro Engraved vessels; one Alba arrow point is part of this component. A single Haley Engraved sherd indicates a very limited use of the site by Caddo peoples between ca. A.D. 1200-1400. The last use of the Snipes site by ancestral Caddo peoples took place after ca. A.D. 1500, and this component is associated with the Texarkana phase, defined on the basis of sites in both the Red River and lower Sulphur River basins. This component includes sherds from Barkman Engraved, Cass Appliqued, Keno Trailed, Simms Engraved, and Pease Brushed-Incised vessels as well as a single Maud arrow point.


References Cited:

Brown, I. W.
1998 Decorated Pottery of the Lower Mississippi Valley: A Sorting Manual. Mississippi Archaeological Association and Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.

Jelks, E. B.
1961 Excavations at Texarkana Reservoir, Sulphur River, Texas. River Basin Surveys Papers No. 21, Bureau of Ethnology Bulletin 179. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

New Research at Spirit Eye Cave, By Dr. Bryon Schroeder

Dr. Bryon Schroeder is a Research Associate at the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross University. This article is a part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter. 


Spirit Eye (41PS25) is a prehistorically occupied cave system located in Presidio County, Texas just north of the Chinati Mountains (Fig. 1). The cave system is situated on the lowest level of a North/South trending limestone cliff. Access is possible via two entrances, lower and upper entrances that lead to a central U-shaped main chamber that connects with a smaller internal horizontal and vertical shaft system. Extensive prehistoric use of the cave is evident on the well-developed cultural talus deposit laden with thousands of pieces of debitage, various ground and chipped stone tools, and a distinct black anthropogenic soil. There are also historic food and beverage containers on this talus slope, remnants of years of looting into the rich and well-preserved prehistoric deposits.

Figure 1. Overview of Center for Big Bend Studies excavation at Spirit Eye Cave, spring 2017.

The deposits within Spirit Eye are not pristine. Evidence of looting is clear: outside both entrances mounds almost three meters tall of screened cave fill are the first indicators of the destruction. As you move into the internal chamber, the portion near the lower entrance resembles a mineshaft from untold looting exploits, and near the upper entrance from the back wall of the cave to the opening is a large stratified mound over a meter tall comprised of looted cave fill. The persons that mined Spirit Eye were all after the same thing–the unique perishable artifacts that this cave preserved (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Atlatl throwing stick fragments and hafted foreshafts looted from Spirit Eye, just one example of the perishable artifacts taken out of the cave.

The artifact assemblage from Spirit Eye offers a unique and holistic view into technologies that made prehistoric adaptation to the Chihuahuan Desert possible. In an effort to salvage some of this valuable information, the Center for Big Bend Studies of Sul Ross State University began the first systematic excavations in the cave in early May of this year. In operationalizing the excavation, we knew it would be important to understand the periods of looting, and what has emerged is a complex and storied history. By the 1960s, artifact collectors at Spirit Eye conducted intense periods of excavation fueled by both black market values and personal curiosity. Understanding this history has enabled us to relocate and claim orphaned collections in curational facilities like TARL and private collections, all of which contain unrivaled artifact assemblages. These looted collections, including many artifacts and a mummified set of human remains recovered from a private collector in the 1990s and now housed at TARL, will be one aspect of our investigations.

Our goal is to understand how the years of unsystematic excavation progressed and to develop research methods that can be used to salvage data from this and other extensively looted archaeology sites. Although our work is still ongoing, we have already recovered thousands of artifacts discarded by collectors, most of them perishable. Not surprisingly, these include domestic artifacts like quids, human coprolites, cordage, various kinds of processed plant fiber, faunal artifacts, foodstuffs, and carved wooden artifacts (Fig. 3). The site, while severely impacted, holds far-reaching research potential that requires an unconventional research design. We are very much at the beginning stages of this research, but it is obvious that we can use Spirit Eye as a laboratory to push the possibilities of research in perishable artifact analysis.

Figure 3. Recently recovered rodent mandible wrapped in organic cord, various cordage examples, whittled stick, and fireboard all from looted cave fill at Spirit Eye.