Investigating a Ten-Millennia Record of Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways in the Northeastern Chihuahuan Desert

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

The Lower Pecos Canyonlands of southwest Texas contains one of the longest and best-preserved records of hunter-gatherer lifeways in North America. Since 2009, the Ancient Southwest Texas Project (Texas State University) and Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center have been conducting intensive multidisciplinary research into understanding aboriginal hunter-gatherers in this unique area on the northeastern fringe of the Chihuahuan Desert. Focusing on sites and assemblages ranging from earth ovens and rockshelters to rock art and bedrock features, presentations will highlight research strategies used to investigate the diverse hunter-gatherer record spanning from Paleoindian to Protohistoric times in the rugged canyonlands of the Rio Grande borderlands. Investigative approaches include rock art, geoarchaeology, 3D data acquisition, methodology, chronology, paleoethnobotany, and zooarchaeology.

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  • Documents (11)

  • Archaeological Chemists & Chemical Archaeologists: Working Together in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, TX (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Karen Steelman. Jessica DeYoung. Carolyn Boyd.

    This research is a collaboration between chemists and archaeologists to study the ancient mural paintings of the Lower Pecos. Using two independent methods, we are able to provide reliable age estimates for rock paintings. To obtain direct dates, we oxidize organic material in paint layers using plasma oxidation followed by accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating. For minimum and maximum ages, we isolate calcium oxalate in overlying and underlying accretion layers for combustion and...

  • Around the Lower Pecos in 1,095 Days: A Baseline Rock Art Documentation Project (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jerod Roberts. Victoria Roberts. Carolyn Boyd.

    The Lower Pecos Canyonlands of southwest Texas and northern Mexico houses some of the most complex and compositionally intricate prehistoric rock art in the world. Presently, there are over 300 archaeological sites reported to include rock art in Val Verde County Texas, with a vast majority not being revisited since they received their site designation 30 to 50 years ago. In January 2017, Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center launched the Baseline Rock Art Documentation Project: a...

  • Burning Water: Time and Creation in the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Carolyn Boyd. Kim Cox.

    The White Shaman Mural (~2000 BP) is a planned composition with rules governing the portrayal of symbolic forms and the sequencing of colors. Using digital microscopy we determined that all black paint was applied first, followed by red, then yellow, and last white. Complex images were woven together to form an intricate visual narrative detailing the birth of the sun and beginning of time. One of the key figures in this creation narrative is a small anthropomorphic figure bearing red antlers...

  • Characterizing Hunter-Gatherer Ground Stone Bedrock Features in the Northeastern Chihuahuan Desert (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amanda M. Castañeda.

    Ground stone bedrock features are common at archaeological sites in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of southwest Texas. These features are human-made depressions pecked, ground, or worn into bedrock or large boulders, and were used for a variety of processing activities by the indigenous peoples. Although archaeologists in the region have informally recognized different "types" of ground stone bedrock features (e.g., slicks, grinding facets, deep mortars), there have been no dedicated studies of...

  • The Developing Tale of Sayles Adobe (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Victoria Pagano.

    The Sayles Adobe terrace site (41VV2239) rests within Eagle Nest Canyon 300 meters upstream from the Rio Grande confluence. The site name comes from E.B. Sayles’ 1932 sketch map of the canyon which notes an area of "sandy adobe" below Skiles Shelter. ASWT research began at Sayles Adobe this past spring with excavations focused on investigating natural terrace formation and cultural deposits buried within. Using a combination of old and new archaeological techniques, Sayles was quickly found to...

  • From Viewer to Observer: Analyzing Spatial Complexity of Pictographs in the Lower Pecos (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ashley Busby.

    From Viewer to Observer will discuss the visual elements of the Pecos River style rock art, exploring the painting techniques and patterns that created these complex spaces. In addition, this paper will examine Lower Pecos pictographs through David Summers’ Real Spaces, as well as other texts, to create a context within current and traditional art historical methodologies. In using Summers’ idea of the spatially aware "observer" instead of the "viewer" I hope to expand the boundaries of the...

  • Low Impact, High Resolution: Unraveling and Learning from 10,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherer Use of Eagle Cave (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charles Koenig. Stephen Black.

    On the northeast fringe of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the largest rockshelters in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, Eagle Cave, preserves an extraordinary record of hunter-gatherer life spanning more than 10,000 years. Ongoing investigations by the Ancient Southwest Texas Project of Texas State University beginning winter of 2015 have re-excavated a 4-meter deep trench through the center of this massive rockshelter in order to document and sample complex stratigraphy and to stabilize and backfill...

  • Multidisciplinary Analyses of a Paleoindian Bison Butchering Event in Eagle Cave (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kevin Hanselka. Amanda M. Castañeda. Christopher Jurgens. Charles W. Koenig. Stephen L. Black.

    From its inception, a major objective of the Ancient Southwest Texas (ASWT) project has been to investigate the potential for Paleoindian-age deposits in Eagle Cave. Previously, the oldest dated deposit in the shelter was a zone of dense charcoal and decomposing fiber designated "Lens 14" and dated to about 8500 RCYBP by University of Texas investigations in the 1960s. These excavations terminated beneath Lens 14 at "Zone 6," a stratum described as "sterile yellow cave dust." During the 2016...

  • The Paleoindian-age Deposits of Eagle Cave: Preliminary Impressions (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ken Lawrence. Charles Frederick. Arlo McKee. Charles Koenig. Stephen Black.

    One of the fundamental research questions of the Ancient Southwest Texas project was to determine if there was Paleoindian occupation of Eagle Cave. Excavations during the 2016 field season explored the Paleoindian age deposits and revealed tantalizing evidence of human presence at that time. One clear occupation was revealed (discussed in another presentation in detail by Castañeda et al.) but beneath this were several deposits that appear to be decomposed fiber beds which are associated with...

  • The Tale of Rattlesnake Canyon: Ongoing Documentation of an Endangered Rock Art Site (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Victoria Roberts. Audrey Lindsay. Jerod Roberts. Carolyn Boyd.

    The Rattlesnake Canyon mural represents one of the most well-preserved and compositionally intricate rock art murals in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, and perhaps the world. Deposited gravels from a major flood episode in June 2014, however, raised the canyon floor approximately 10 feet, enabling future floods to destroy the fragile panel. This presentation provides an update on emergency documentation efforts currently underway at Rattlesnake Canyon. Documentation and analyses of this mural...

  • The White Shaman Mural: The Story Behind the Book (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kim Cox. Carolyn Boyd.

    The prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands created some of the most spectacular rock art of the ancient world. Perhaps the greatest of these masterpieces is the White Shaman mural. This presentation provides an introduction to our recently-published book The White Shaman Mural: An Enduring Creation Narrative, which is one of the most comprehensive analyses of a rock art mural ever attempted. Drawing on twenty-five years of archaeological research and analysis, as well as...