Archaeology in a Whole New Dimension

By Victoria Pagano

Hello again, it’s Victoria here to tell you that I’m excited. Excited about the work we’re doing out here in Eagle Cave and with the ASWT project as a whole. Now this is not to say that I wasn’t enthusiastic when I first found I would get a chance to intern in an amazing place, with knowledgeable people, learning and doing great new things; but, I’m writing now with a little training under my belt as to the way things work and and a better understanding of how absolutely fantastic it really is.


Okay, this isn’t at Buenavista, but it is one of the sites that is worked on by the project. Mighty “El Castillo” at Xunantunich, just one example of the architecture and archaeology to be found in Belize.

Before ASWT

First, I would like to tell you a bit about my first and only field work in archaeology…just to offer a bit of perspective. I was unbelievably lucky to work in Belize. A beautiful country full of cultural and ecological diversity– not to mention the incredible historical and archaeological richness it holds as well. The project was based in the Mopan River Valley, studying the ancient Maya sites of San Lorenzo, Xunantunich, and Buenavista del Cayo. My work was focused at Buenavista, a mid-level city center with plazas and stone structures that had been reclaimed by the jungle.


That’s where I worked, Buenavista del Cayo. Just down the river from Xunantunich and many other archaeological sites.

It was in Belize that I learned basic excavation procedures:

Step 1: Find somewhere you want to excavate and establish an excavation unit. This includes (for most) establishing a permanent datum, laying out the unit, and taking starting measurements.

Step 2: Establish your excavation protocol. Are you going to follow natural breaks in the stratigraphy, or are you going to use an arbitrary measurement to create your strata, lots, layers, etc. You’ll probably want to sketch and photograph the starting and ending surfaces, too, as you work your way down.

Step 3: You find something really cool in the floor or wall of your unit… a hearth, post-hole, projectile point, a body, etc. — you decide you want to make sure this is in your notes (hopefully you are taking notes, good notes), so you need to take additional steps.

Step 4-6: You need to 4) Take photographs– with a scale and some indication of direction 5) Map it i.e. create a drawing by measuring to and from objects in your unit to an established point or points, like a sub-datum. This will yield a plan or profile map with detail as to where your find is and where everything else in your unit is in relation to your find. Detail, detail, detail!  Depending on how precise you want your map to be, if you have help, and your level of OCD, drawing a map can take anywhere from minutes to hours.  6) Take more notes of the object’s location, this may include a GPS point that you tie to your datum later, or measurements that you will use to associate the object’s location relative to the datum.

Step 7: You’re probably pretty tired from all those steps you took to draw your unit. You need a nap, but chin up, you established your unit today AND you found something! Hopefully your notes are good, you read that compass properly, and you’re mapping skills are adequate enough that your map doesn’t simply look like a box with a few misshapen circles, squiggly lines, and a triangle.

Now I have nothing against all those steps (the old fashioned paper and pen method works), but there is always room for improvement.  So why is it I am so ecstatic to work in a place where there isn’t monumental architecture, elaborate burials, mysterious mythology and codices? Structure from Motion.

What is Structure from Motion?


Here I am focused on photographing my unit for SfM.

Structure from Motion (SfM) is a surprisingly simple technique that is easy to learn, quick to do in the field, and potentially available to archaeologists wherever they work, or at least those with access to modern technology. SfM uses still-motion photography to rebuild real-world, dimensional objects. Using a digital camera you take a series of overlapping, sequential photographs of your desired target and run them through a software program, such as Agisoft Photoscan.  The software is able to match up all the different photographs and build a virtual 3D model of the target (for more info on what Structure from Motion is, see our blog post from last spring:  Structure from Motion).

For the ASWT project, we are using SfM to document and record everything from entire sites to small excavation layers.  In other words, a digital camera and a computer take the place of the traditional pencil and sketch map technique that I became familiar with in Belize.  Creating sketch maps is somewhat fallible in terms of reliability due to human error; we can only record and note what we see or notice at the site. Often, having only a single chance to record something before we move on to the next layer. Even more often when we sketch we focus on the big things, the obvious things, not necessarily because we think the rest inconsequential, but because we cannot physically draw every detail. SfM captures all of the visual detail that we can’t see or maybe don’t even think to include at the time because we’re so focused on recording our super cool projectile point or rock alignment.

When it comes down to it, many of the steps and methods are the same (we’re still completing forms and taking notes and we aren’t taking any shortcuts), but what really changes is the end product: our results. Our notes, drawings, photos, and forms are all we have left after an excavation. SfM offers us a permanent, virtual record that preserves and offers accessibility to our excavation data for years to come (and dozens more eyes). Nothing gets skipped over, nothing forgotten.

Our Work So Far

Eagle Cave South Trench Strip numbering system.

Eagle Cave South Trench Strip numbering system. Strip 4 is where I focused my work for the first session in Eagle Cave.

As I mentioned in my introductory blog post, I am interested in archaeological applications of GIS. I also mentioned that I was intrigued by the SfM technique that I myself first learned about from this blog [Eagle Nest Canyon at the Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting]. Now I come to you one month in, with a bit more knowledge on the project and the technique to present another perspective.

I spent the January session re-exposing a profile face, PS005, that was initially exposed in 2014. This profile sits in what we now call Strip 4, almost smack dab in the center, top section of the South Trench wall of Eagle Cave.

Digital annotation of PS005 orthophoto from 2014 before profile sampling.

Digital annotation of PS005 orthophoto from 2014 before profile sampling.

PS005 with micromorph samples superimposed and georeferenced onto the profile.

PS005 with micromorph samples superimposed and georeferenced onto the profile.

At first it was a mess. After removing the backfill and geo-cloth, we discovered that the profile face had suffered damage from continued erosion and rodent burrowing since it was originally exposed. In 2014, the investigators assigned strat numbers based on their original profile exposure –i.e. each visible stratum received a unique number.  However, they then excavated a small sampling column and did their best to follow the layer seen in profile across the unit. The presence of numerous rodent burrows, especially through the ashy layers, made strat definition challenging.

I should add one more factor, at the end of the 2014 excavations the PS005 profile was sampled by the geoarchaeologists who removed micromorphology samples.  Although done carefully, the wall was no longer pristine.

PS005 profile we exposed in 2015.

PS005 profile we exposed in 2015.

This helps explain why when we re-exposed the PS005 profile we could not easily match what we were seeing in the field to the original profile illustration. So, we decided to excavate a sampling column through a portion of the jumbled profile, using the 2014 strat numbers for our layer designations . This was done with two goals in mind:

1) Cut back eroded face (profile) and re-expose the stratigraphy.

2) Collect high-resolution samples of the matrix and artifacts within the profile.

Excavating a sampling column involves collecting the matrix of each layer (along with things like Spot Samples, Geo-matrix Samples, and samples for radiocarbon dating) that can be further analyzed in a lab.  We are not only collecting samples of each strat, but using the TDS shots of each sample and the strat location, we will add them all to the SfM model. So whoever processes and analyzes the samples can have a virtually exact geospatial reference of its origin. This will help us build an assemblage of associated artifacts, radiocarbon dates, and deposition event, aiding in our understanding of the shelter and the canyon: how it was used, when it was used, what they were doing there.

Rather than draw a standard paper and pen illustration of each layer as we excavated, we instead used SfM to document the top surface of each strat. This not only gives us an idea of what we were looking at, but it allows us to use GIS to calculate volume of matrix removed.

Field annotation of the strats in PS0010: 2015, previously PS005: 2014, that Charles and I completed.

Field annotation of the strats in PS0010: 2015, previously PS005: 2014, that Charles and I completed.

Once I finished with the sampling column, attempting to follow the strats that were assigned the previous year, the profile face that was exposed was extraordinarily rich.  In other words, by cutting back the wall we found better preserved and more complex stratigraphy. The newly exposed profile exposure is called PS010.

Previously, only about 10-12 strats were identified in this area.  We have now defined 22 individual strata from the “same” exposure. I re-photographed the profile giving us three sets of 3D data: TDS shots, 3D models of all the excavation layers, and now the model of newly exposed PS010. We now have a new high resolution 3D model to overlay all of the excavation layers and samples onto – all of which can be manipulated to aid in analysis.

Where it All Comes Together

Our field lab is where all the sets of photographs are processed. Using Photoscan we align and georeference all the images for each individual layer. The photographs, GCPs, TDS, and notes are all combined to digitally rebuild the excavation. A 3-dimensional, manipulable dataset that works hand-in-hand with all of the physical data—matrix, artifacts, etc.—and the recorded data i.e. notes, photos, etc. In order to have these georeferenced for GIS or used in photogrammetry, no less than six GCPs, ground control points, are included in each excavation exposure. Ground control points are geospatial reference points that you place on your object or in your unit, shoot in with a TDS or GPS, so that photographs and models can not only be more accurately aligned with each other, but linked to a geographic grid. This becomes incredibly handy when you are working in say, a canyon with multiple sites carrying on extensive excavations that you would like to map and relate to one another. Then, not only can you reference all of your units and sites among the canyon, but you can reference and cross-analyze your work with other sites across the region or the world. Once we have our models we can then export all or parts of the model into many different formats; GeoTIFF, TIFF, JPEG, KMZ, etc. Our models are ready to imported into GIS software where we can further manipulate and analyze them.

This shows the samples that were taken in the PS005 sampling column. They are superimposed onto the 2015: PS010 orthophoto.

This shows the samples that were taken in the PS005 sampling column. They are superimposed onto the 2015: PS010 orthophoto.

Orthophoto of complete PS010 profile face.

Orthophoto of complete PS010 profile face. An orthophoto is created once the SfM modeling is completed, GCPs added into the model, and then exported into ArcGIS for more analysis.

Our Answer

A goal of the ASWT project is to not only excavate and collect, but to gather the best data we can – or best representation of that data –backing it all up with SfM and GIS.  Structure from Motion gives us the opportunity to not only georeference our units, finds, and strata, but we can literally rebuild them, at least digitally speaking. No longer are we relying upon the traditional mapping, measuring, and sketching techniques of years past that result in rather dimensionless visualizations of excavations.

SfM also easily provides a new solution to an old problem: excavation vs. preservation. The basis of archaeology is essentially destroying material history in the name of research and discovery, so that we can preserve and record it as best we can. Granted we have gotten much, much better at recording and excavating than back in the early days of the field, there is still room for improvement and innovation. In 2014, Bryan Heisinger (2014 ASWT Intern; 2015 ASWT Staff Archaeologist) presented at the Texas Archeological Society annual meeting, on the uses of SfM and GIS for not only modeling, but extrapolating volumes of material removed and creating digital elevation models (DEMs). These can be used to study stratigraphy and depositional events of floods, people, and even animals– as Emily and Larsen can attest to. Our documentation of profiles, like PS005 and PS010 helps us build a database of all the excavations and the shelters to aid in the analysis of what is to some a rather abstract concept of time. Our work becomes more dimensional, more visible. You aren’t just looking at the profile of a wall or structure or shelter. You can virtually walk around that wall, walk into that structure, and around that shelter, without ever being there. The outreach potential is exponential.

The ASWT project personnel and many of our colleagues believe that SfM is that next step in improving archaeological documentation. Incorporating SfM and GIS technology we can model excavations with millimeter level precision recording finer detail in stratigraphy and location than ever before. Physical 3-D models that can be pieced together or pulled a part. High resolution, detailed, and accurate data that can be manipulated, viewed, and analyzed virtually any way we desire. Even better we can share our results in a brand new ways: 3D printing, virtual tours, etc., we could and can literally print pieces of art, artifacts, even a scale model of the canyon if we wanted to! This project, this technique isn’t just for the archaeologists and researchers understand the shelters better, our goal is to be able to help everyone understand the shelters better because the shelters are a part of all our histories.

To elaborate on what Charles has said numerous times and will likely say many more, “50 years ago they were using completely different techniques..50 years from now they’ll be using completely different techniques…but right now we have the technology and the opportunity to set those standards for the next 50 years. We are doing something amazing here with SfM, and sure, we’re not the only people using this method, but there could be a dang lot more of us using it.”

If you haven’t already, you should click on over to our older posts on the subject, and I highly encourage you to visit the Mark Willis Blog, where you can see some of the other extraordinary uses of SfM 3-D modeling.

Between a Rock and a Heart Place

By Bryan Heisinger

Last year during the 2014 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedition, the crew surveyed the land around the Shumla campus for a fresh spot to establish an experimental earth oven facility. As described by Jake Sullivan and Brooke Bonorden (see Searching for the Trifecta), earth ovens are a cooking technology used by the people of the Lower Pecos (and across the world) to bake plants and animals that would otherwise be inedible to humans.

The remains of earth ovens are found at thousands of archaeological sites across the Lower Pecos Canyonlands region, including Eagle Nest Canyon.  At Eagle Cave, the massive heep of earth oven cooking debris–mainly fire-cracked rock (FCR)–has accumulated from the repeated use of the site for constructing earth ovens, probably over thousands of years. Though highly recognizable and important to our understanding of the human occupation and use of Eagle Cave, the many hundreds of tons of burned rock that fill this and other rockshelters within Eagle Nest Canyon has been poorly studied and documented by archaeologists who have worked here over the past 80 years.

In reaction to this negligence towards FCR and earth oven research, the ASWT project has made it a priority to study and quantify the amount of earth oven cooking that occurred in the uplands and rockshelters in and around Eagle Nest Canyon.  As we documented in 2011-2012, similar evidence can be found along Dead Man’s Creek, a tributary of the Devils River, and across the region and beyond. When studying earth ovens, one of the best ways to become acquainted with the methods of earth oven technology  is to use experimental archaeology and actually build one!

The ASWT Experimental Earth Oven:

Back in 2014 when we were surveying the Shumla campus for a suitable spot to build earth ovens, we had three criteria to keep in mind while looking for the perfect location: 1. Soil, 2. Fuel,  and 3. Food. Not to mention, we took care to avoid establishing an oven at a known archaeological site! Soil, fuel, and food are the desirable location traits needed for a successful earth oven, because you need soil to dig an oven pit, you need wood to build a fire, and you need food (in our case sotol or lechuguilla) to cook. The crew eventually found a favorable spot near campus and cleared the surrounding brush for the ASWT Experimental Earth Oven locality.  Unfortunately, due to burn bans, lack of time, and conflicting personal schedules, the 2014 ENC expedition was never able to build an experimental earth oven

Fast forward to this year: On January 11th, three days after the new ASWT interns arrived at the Shumla campus, the weather conditions were highly favorable to finally build our long awaited experimental earth ovenAfter gathering enough firewood (fuel), lechuguilla and sotol (food), and close to 100 kilograms of limestone clasts from the immediate surroundings, the crew was ready to begin constructing the earth oven.

We began by digging a pit close to a meter and a half in diameter, and a half a meter in depth. The firewood (hand-gathered deadwood) was then stacked in a conical pyre (similar to a tepee), and the limestone rocks were strategically placed within the cone of firewood.

The crew agreed that it was best to light the fire the traditional Lower Pecos way, so Park Archaeologist Jack Johnson of Amistad National Recreation Area (US National Park Service) used the bloom stalk of a sotol plant to start a friction fire. In under 2 minutes, Jack had the fire blazing under the stars (for a time-lapse of the earth oven fire, watch this video by Jack Johnson:


The blazing conical pyre of firewood and limestone rock in shorty after it was fired.


After the fire burned down to embers and the rocks were glowing red hot in the bottom of the pit, the crew and several student volunteers from Texas State University began lining the the pit with prickly pear pads – the pads serve as a lower layer of packing material that helps to retain the moist heat needed to bake the food at a low temperature (ca. 100 C) for an extended period of time (typically 36 -48 hours.)


Placing the first layer of packing material (prickly pear pads) ontop of the hot limestone rock.


Once the prickly pear was placed, it was time to throw in the food we collected. Lechuguilla and sotol hearts (3 each) were placed in the center of the pit on top of the prickly pear and covered again with more packing material.


Laying the food (Sotol and lechuguilla) on top of the packing material.


After the remaining packing material was thrown over the food, we began to cover and cap the pit with dirt; this cap of soil insulates and holds in the steamy heat released from the rocks and suffocates the fire allowing no combustion. Now it was time to wait for our plants to bake and hope our hard labor would deliver some tasty results!


Capping the earth oven with soil.




Charles packing down the cap of soil to ensure no heat escapes.


Dinner is Served:

On the evening of January 13th, two days after we capped and sealed our earth oven, the crew returned to taste the baked desert succulents that were slow cooked over the last 48 hours. While digging the bulbs out of the pit, we noticed how the soil was still warm from the heated rocks below. The baked lechuguilla and sotol had a turned a caramelized color and had an aroma that smelled similar to a smokey artichoke.


The baked bulbs of sotol and lechuguilla.


The palatability  of these baked plants sent mixed expressions across the faces of our crew, some of who enjoyed the flavor and some who didn’t.


Tasting our baked food for the first time. The faces say it all.


Learning from Earth Ovens:

A great variety of scientific information potentially can be obtained from the experimental construction of earth ovens.  One aspect of earth oven use ASWT is particularly interested in is understanding the rate at which limestone rock breaks down through repeated use in earth ovens. The layer of heated limestone rocks forming the bed of an earth oven serves as a thermal storage or heating element that slowly cooks the food. During the firing process, the limestone rocks begin to break apart from the intense heat that they are exposed to (over 500 C).  Through reuse, thermal cycling–from cold to hot to cold again– causes the rocks to continue to fracture into ever smaller pieces.  Solid rocks with few flaws typically last longer than naturally fractured rocks and those with thin spots. Once the rocks becomes too small to retain heat, they are no longer effective thermal storage devices and they are discarded and tossed into what will become a debris ring around the oven pit, eventually qualifying as a burned rock midden. If we can track and measure a known mass of limestone rock (e.g., 100 kilograms/220 pounds) as it continuously breaks down into smaller rocks from heat and re-used in new earth ovens, we could then to apply this experimental rock-size attribute data to the fire-cracked rock (FCR) that we find in such profusion in the archaeological ground. In other words, this experimental use of earth ovens can potentially allow us to more accurately measure the amount of earth oven cooking that took place in Eagle Cave and other rockshelters and open sites in the region.

Eagle Cave’s Feature No. 8:

Last week, Emily and Larsen uncovered what we think is an intact earth oven heating element in their excavation unit. To a trained eye, this earth oven feature was characteristically textbook in its makeup. Many of the limestone rocks were inclined at the base of the pit and the soil that surrounded these fire-cracked rocks was heavily organic, ashy, and rich with dime-size charcoal chunks. It even appeared as if there had been a different soil that was used to cap this earth oven once long ago.


3D model (plan view) of feature 8 in Eagle Cave. Notice the dense cluster of fire cracked rock and black/grey charcoal rich soil.




Plan and profile view of feature 8 in Eagle Cave.


With intact, well-preserved finds such as Feature 8, we have the ability to obtain radiocarbon dates that can help us determine when this oven was used.  Furthermore, we can sieve the collected soil from that earth oven feature and, with the help of our collaborating archaeobotanists, identify the charred plant remains that were being processed by the people who lived in Eagle Cave. What we cannot do is accurately estimate how many times this earth oven was re-used. Was Feature 8 a one-time earth oven event? Or was it the last of series of earth ovens that had been built and re-used in this very spot using the same rocks? These are some of the questions that ASWT would like to address in our ongoing research. Through these initial tests with EEO No.1 and other experimental earth ovens to follow, we believe that the data to answer these questions could come to light.

ASWT Experimental Earth Oven (EEO) No. 1

After enjoying the success of our first experimental earth oven, we returned  a week later to dig out all the rocks from EEO No. 1.  We used 11 rocks larger than 15 cm in maximum dimension in the oven (99 kg or ~220 lbs of total), and we were able to recover all the rock that was used.  Most of the rocks survived the fire, but as you can see from the photograph below, some of the rock broke into smaller fragments.


The rock size sorted fire cracked limestone, post earth oven firing.

Once all the rocks were pulled out of the oven, we divided the rocks into four size categories: <7.5 cm in maximum dimension, between 7.5-11 cm, 11-15 cm, and >15 cm in maximum dimension.  We used the same familiar size categories we use in the recording procedure we call “Rock Sort” which allows us to quantify the rocks from each excavation unit-layer.  The smallest two size classes (<7.5cm and 7.5-11cm) contain rocks that are too small to be effectively used again as rocks for the heating element.  After counting and weighing all the rocks in each size class, almost all of our rock (93 out of 99 kg) survived to be used again.


Weighing the fire cracked limestone rock.


Likely during our next session, all the useable limestone rock from ASWT EEO No. 1 will be re-used in another experimental earth oven event.  After the second firing (ASWT EEO N0. 2.) we will once again recover all the rocks, sort the rocks into different size categories, and weight all of them.  We will continue to re-use the same rocks until the rocks all become too small (<3.5 inches) to effectively retain heat anymore. The more times we “burn” the rocks, the more data we will collect to further our goal.  We anticipate great data and results to come!


ENC Act 2: Return to Eagle Cave

By Charles Koenig

Yesterday we wrapped up our first week of field work for the 2015 season, and things are off to a great start (even if the weather is a little chilly).  Last year we worked at four sites within ENC: Skiles Shelter, Horse Trail Shelter, Kelley Cave, and Eagle Cave as discussed in previous posts.  To recap, we completed our planned investigations at Skiles and Kelley, we carried out initial testing at Horse Trail, and we got started at Eagle.   Although we learned a great deal by working at four different sites, this year we will focus on one site: Eagle Cave.

The 2015 ASWT crew, assisted by student volunteers from Texas State, begin exposing intact stratigraphy in Eagle Cave.

The 2015 ASWT crew, assisted by student volunteers from Texas State, begin exposing intact stratigraphy in Eagle Cave.

As described in the blog post from last spring (see Eagle Cave: Where Context is Crucial), previous archaeological work in Eagle Cave in the 1930s and 1960s, and subsequent erosion, resulted in the massive trench spanning from the rear wall to the dripline.  Based on the work done by the Texas Archeological Salvage Project during 1963, we know that the deposits the trench bisects are between 10 and 20 feet  deep (3-6 m).  Through the decades the once-vertical trench faces gradually succumbed to the forces of gravity, wind, burrowing critters, and misplaced footsteps, leaving a sloping U-shaped depression.  We planned from the outset of the project to expose, sample, stabilize, and backfill the trench, but we needed to gain experience working in other areas of the site before taking on the daunting task of the main trench.

Plan view of Eagle Cave showing the location of the 5 Profile Sections excavated in 2014.

Plan view of Eagle Cave showing the location of the 5 Profile Sections excavated in 2014.

Last season we opened up 5 small “windows” in different areas of the site.  Profile Section (PS) 1 was on the downstream side of the site were a large badger burrow exposed surprisingly intact deposits just under the surface.  Only a few meters away, PS 2 began in the disturbed deposits along the rear wall which had been dug out long ago by the Witte, the “local boys” of Langtry, and burrowing animals. As we removed the deeply disturbed rear wall deposits and worked our way outward we encountered intact remnants there too.

Profile Sections 1 (left) and 2 (right).  Each profile was generated using Structure from Motion software.

Profile Sections 1 (left) and 2 (right). Each profile was generated using Structure from Motion software.

Profile Sections 3 and 4 were located in the UT North excavation unit in the upstream end of the site (and are the subject of Tina Nielsen’s thesis research project).

Profile Sections 3 (right) and 4 (left) were excavated in the UT North Unit.  Excavations reached bedrock over 3 meters below surface.

Profile Sections 3 (right) and 4 (left) were excavated in the UT North Unit. Excavations reached bedrock over 3 meters below surface.

The final exposure was PS 5 – located in the upper part of the south wall of the main trench, where erosion had provided glimpses of intact layering.

PS 5 was exposed on the south wall of the main trench at the end of the season.

PS 5 was exposed on the south wall of the main trench at the end of the season.

Each of these exposures (PS 1 – 5) gave us the opportunity to test, modify, and improve our excavation and sampling methods, as well as gain experience documenting the complex and fragile stratigraphy of the dry rockshelter deposits.  Yet, each exposure provided only a rather narrow (~3-4 feet) view of the deposits, and it was difficult to link stratigraphic layers between profiles.  Our 2014 experience drove home the realization that in order to gain a better understanding of the deposits, we would need more substantial stratigraphic exposures – and there is no better place to do so than in the main trench.


The focus of the 2015 field season is exposing, recording, sampling, and stabilizing the south wall of the main trench.  We want to take advantage of the slumping trench wall and expose as much intact stratigraphy as we can.  In other words, we want to frame the microstratigraphic layering seen in small windows within the context of the larger structural patterning visible across the site. We are continuing to step our profiles vertically and horizontally to maintain stability (and provide access), and we are following the same “Low Impact, High Resolution” sampling strategy (See Low Impact High Resolution).

This past week we re-exposed PS 5, which we had draped with landscape cloth and gently covered with fill at the end of the 2014 season.  And we began opening up fresh exposures at two additional locations along the trench (see the time lapse above).  As the season progresses we will step down the exposures deeper into the trench, but for now we are focused on the upper deposits.  By the end of the 2015 field season we expect that we will have documented and sampled rather spectacular stratigraphic exposures along the main trench, and we look forward to sharing what we find!

Back in the Canyon: The 2015 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedition


We’re back!  Today marks the first work day of the 2015 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedition.  We are very excited to be back, and are looking forward to another fantastic field season.  Unfortunately, Steve will not be spending as much time in the Canyon this spring as he would like, but he has left me (Charles) to run the project in his place.  I am joined once again by Bryan Heisinger, one of the interns from last spring.  Bryan returns to the ASWT project after spending another summer in the Sierra National Forest, and will be serving as Staff Archaeologist for the duration of the spring.  Along with Bryan and myself, we are fortunate to be joined by three outstanding interns: Matt Larsen, Victoria Pagano, and Emily McCuistion.

Emily McCuistion


I was born in Austin, TX and there I remained (for the most part) until graduating with a BA in Anthropology from the University of Texas. Since then I have followed archeology work to some remarkable places including Death Valley National Park, where I fell in love with the desert, and Denali, Alaska. Most of my archeology experience has been with the National Park Service and US Forest Service doing survey, site recording and condition assessments, and aiding in management decisions pertaining to cultural sites. I also worked in NSW, Australia consulting for development projects, briefly worked on
a nautical excavation of a Civil War gunboat off the Texas coast, and detailed on the BP oil spill clean-up at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

I am now pleasantly surprised at my good fortune as to be doing archeology where I have longed to be, in southwest Texas, and with a team that is so innovatively balancing preservation and data retrieval. I am excited to learn from and contribute to our knowledge of history and landscape of the striking and enigmatic Lower Pecos Canyonlands.

 Victoria Pagano


I graduated from UTSA in 2014 with my B.A. in Anthropology. My sole archaeological experience was a month long field school in central western Belize as part of the MVAP/MVPP project headed by Dr. Jason Yaeger and Dr. Kat Brown, where I worked at Buenavista del Cayo. In 2011, I worked as an Interpretation Intern at Petrified Forest National Park; I guided and informed park guests on all aspects of the park: archaeological, historical, geological, and paleontological. My experience at the park has placed conservation and stewardship as a priority in my work and goals, which I am glad to find are important aspects to this project. I spent Fall 2014 in UTSA’s GIS certificate program learning some GIS and remote sensing. I focused my work in the program on wildfire effects on vegetation and wildfire patterns in Arizona. As part of this ENC team I look forward most to working in project that is aimed towards bringing archaeological records into the future with new techniques and standards. I am excited to learn more about the Structure from Motion software and explore the field of geoarchaeology.

Matt Larsen

larsen bio

My name is Matt Larsen, though I usually go by Larsen because there are always at least 2 other Matts in any large enough group. I graduated with a degree in German from UT-Austin in 2008 and put that to good use by working at Pete’s Piano Bar in Austin for 6 years or so. In 2012 I decided to follow a life-long dream and become an archaeologist. I attended Texas State and received my second B.A. in Anthropology in December of 2014.

While at Texas State I interned with the curation lab at the THC’s Historic Sites Division’s repository in Austin. While there I spent my time processing the archaeological materials from Fort Griffin State Historic Site. I also worked as an undergraduate intern for the final quarter of the 2014 ENC field expedition. I learned quite a lot in that 6 weeks and made some good friends. I enjoyed backfilling excavation units so much I decided to quit my job and join the 2015 ENC field expedition for the full duration.

I am excited to get back out there and get really, really dirty again. The LPC is a very special place due to the magnificent preservation conditions and the fantastic rock art. I enjoy working with ASWT for several reasons. I am excited about continuing to work with pioneering digital photogrammetric techniques. I enjoy working with the celebrity guest archaeologists Dr. Black brings out on a regular basis. Finally, I am excited to see what we uncover! Besides the archaeology I am looking forward to working with the great folks from SHUMLA and the Skiles family. I am also curious to see what kind of critters we rustle up this year. If you know Dr. Black, then you know it ain’t archaeology without a snake story!

Eagle Nest Canyon at the Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting

By Charles Koenig

This past weekend the Texas Archeological Society held its 85th annual meeting in San Marcos, Texas, and the Eagle Nest Canyon project was well represented.  Steve Black and I began the symposium with a 40-minute introduction highlighted by a series of animations created from the 3D models we have generated from our work thus far.  The six animations, such as that of Eagle Cave shown below, were narrated and aided by additional images.

Eleven additional speakers and ENC research team members rounded out the ENC symposium (abstracts below).  We also created a poster (Skiles et al. Eagle Cave_TAS2014 Poster) to highlight the excavation methodology we are using at Eagle Cave.  All of the presenters gave excellent presentations, and we are looking forward to learning from the ongoing analyses.  Stay tuned for new blog posts, and we will have another symposium at the Society for American Archaeology Meeting in San Francisco next April!

2014 Expedition to Eagle Nest Canyon


Eagle Nest Canyon from the air. UAV Imagery courtesy Mark Willis.

Stephen L. Black, Charles W. Koenig, Mark D. Willis, and Charles D. Frederick

This presentation introduces the symposium and the 2014 Expedition by the Ancient Southwest Texas Project of Texas State University, as well as sites within Eagle Nest Canyon with an animated overview of the canyon. The ENC Expedition has three overarching research goals: 1) understand the human and natural history of the canyon; 2) share what we learn; and 3), conserve the archaeological record for future generations. From January through June a small core research team worked side-by-side with landowners Jack and Wilmuth Skiles and dedicated volunteers, collaborators, and partners to further these goals.  Our strategy is to apply state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary research methods to documenting and sampling the complexly and deeply stratified deposits at two dry rockshelters with extremely well preserved organic remains and two shelters with shallow overhangs.  Our guiding motto “Low Impact, High Resolution” characterizes our approach.

Sites, Features, and Artifacts of the Canyon Edge, Eagle Nest Canyon

Matt describing a small upland burned rock feature on the Canyon Edge.

Matt Basham describing a small upland burned rock feature on the Canyon Edge.

Matt Basham, Texas State University

The canyon edge is a common geographic zone throughout the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of southwest Texas.  The edge around Eagle Nest Canyon, in particular, was used by prehistoric people for thousands of years.  Archaeological surveys of the area, most recently by the Ancient Southwest Texas Project of Texas State University, have documented a variety of sites, features, and artifacts that have helped reveal the length and scope of human activity in this unique geographic setting.  This paper will present an overview of the canyon edge around Eagle Nest Canyon.  A brief description will be given of each site in this zone.  In addition, the radiocarbon dates of several burned rock features and diagnostic projectile points will be discussed that are relevant to determining the length and scope of human activity on the edge of Eagle Nest Canyon.

In Search of the Basketmakers: The Story of the Early Witte Museum Expeditions to Eagle Nest Canyon

Stephanie Mueller excavating PS05 in Eagle Cave.

Stephanie Mueller excavating PS05 in Eagle Cave.

Stephanie Mueller, Witte Museum

In a race to be among one of the first institutions to acquire artifacts from the earliest known culture in Texas at the time, the Witte Memorial Museum sent out fifteen known expeditions to archeological sites throughout western Texas within the first two decades of its institutional history.  At least five of those expeditions ended up in Eagle Nest Canyon.  The first of those was a scouting expedition in 1922 to Eagle Cave (41V167).  Four other expeditions followed in the 1930s where the museum conducted excavations in Eagle Cave, Jacal Shelter (41VV674), and other sites in the vicinity of Langtry, Texas.  This paper provides an overview of the known Witte expeditions to Eagle Nest Canyon and reports recent findings of one of the museum’s campsites utilized during the later expeditions.

A Microstratigraphic Approach to Evaluating Site Formation Processes at Eagle Cave

Tina running the TDS in Eagle Cave.

Tina running the TDS in Eagle Cave.

Christina Nielsen, Texas State University

Eagle Cave (41VV167) is a large dry rockshelter with deep stratified deposits spanning the Early Archaic through the Late Prehistoric periods. My thesis research focuses on the deposits in the northern sector of the shelter sampled during the 1963 excavations by UT-Austin and again a half century later by Texas State University in 2014.  My goal is to use multiple lines of evidence to evaluate the natural and cultural formation processes that resulted in the complexly stratified, culturally rich deposits present in Eagle Cave.  By using data derived from stratigraphic documentation, geoarchaeological sampling, artifact analysis, macrobotanical and faunal identification, constituent size distribution, and radiocarbon dating, I hope to develop a viable protocol for understanding the site formation processes evident at Eagle Cave and many other Lower Pecos rockshelters.  This presentation summarizes the microstratigraphic approach taken during the 2014 field investigations and highlights methodological and analytic challenges.

We Dig GIS! Studying Lower Pecos Stratigraphy with ArcGIS

Bryan standing in front of PS3 in Eagle Cave.

Bryan standing in front of PS3 in Eagle Cave.

 Bryan Heisinger, U.S. Forest Service (2014 ASWT Intern)

Throughout the ENC 2014 project we used Structure from Motion to document and photograph each excavation unit-layer.  Using the photogrammetry software, we are able to create digital surface terrain representations and digital elevation models (DEMs) of excavation unit-layers with sub-millimeter accuracy.  In turn, each DEM can then be manipulated with ArcGIS in such a way to not only show and measure the precise opening and closing dimensions of an excavated unit, but also calculate total volume of material excavated—no matter the shape or size.  Additionally, these digitally recreated excavation layers can be overlaid onto a unit’s stratigraphic profile in ArcGIS to compare the pre-defined strata of a profile to what was actually excavated and seen in profile view.  Together by using ArcGIS and Structure from Motion photogrammetry software, the ASWT Project has begun extracting excavation unit data in a new and potentially more efficient way.

Preliminary Analysis of Archaeobotanical Materials from Kelley Cave

Kevin (far right) points out scars that suggest the deep mortar hole that goes all the way through this small boulder was quite intentional.  He has seen similar "artifacts" in Tamaulipas.  Incidentally, we think J. Charles Kelley described this very rock in May 1932 when he and E. B. Sayles dug small tests in Eagle Cave.

The Macrobotanical team examining a large grinding slab in Eagle Cave.

Kevin Hanselka, Leslie L. Bush, J. Philip Dering, and Stephen L. Black

Abundant well-preserved plant remains recovered from sheltered sites in Eagle Nest Canyon illuminate ecological interrelations between the prehistoric site occupants and the surrounding natural landscape. These materials have implications regarding: preferences and selection of local plants for food and fuelwood; behavioral patterns of food plant harvesting and processing; modification of plant parts into material culture such as tools, cordage, and textiles; seasonality of site use; and the nature of past environments surrounding the shelters at time of site occupation. In this paper we present the preliminary results of ongoing archaeobotanical analysis of plant materials recovered from Kelley Cave (41VV164). In particular we focus on evidence from Feature 4, a large pit thought to represent an earth oven facility with a complex history of use and abandonment.

Floods, Muds, and Plant Baking: ASWT Excavations at Skiles Shelter


Charles discussing excavations in Eagle Cave with Matt Larsen and Lindsay Vermillion.

 Charles W. Koenig, Texas State University

Of the Eagle Nest Canyon sites, Skiles Shelter is located closest to the Rio Grande and is the most at-risk for damage from flooding.  Dan Rodriguez tested Skiles during the 2013 Texas State field school. The Ancient  Southwest Texas Project greatly expanded on this initial work in 2014.  Excavations this past spring at Skiles Shelter focused on three main research objectives: 1) understanding the site’s depositional history; 2) quantifying how much earth oven baking occurred there; and 3) relating the prehistoric record at Skiles to the other sites within Eagle Nest Canyon.  Excavations were conducted using similar methodologies employed by ASWT at other Lower Pecos BRM sites, with a focus on collecting samples for radiocarbon dating, geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, and zooarchaelogy.  This presentation will highlight preliminary results of the excavations and ongoing analysis.


Morphological Variation of Bedrock Features in Eagle Nest Canyon

Amanda recording the bedrock features at Skiles Shelter.

Amanda recording the bedrock features at Skiles Shelter.

Amanda M. Castañeda, Texas State University

Bedrock features are a common archaeological occurrence in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. These occur in a wide range of forms, from polished “slicks”, cupules, and small grinding facets to large, deep, well-developed mortar holes. Even though relatively common, bedrock features, and ground stone in general, have received very little directed research in the region. This paper focuses on *** bedrock features from five sites within Eagle Nest Canyon, and highlights ongoing research examining bedrock feature morphology. On-site morphological and macroscopic use wear attributes were recorded for each individual work station, and Structure from Motion photogrammetry was employed to further assess this feature type. Additionally, experimental residue samples were collected from several features in Skiles Shelter. This project will contribute to creating a typology of bedrock features for the region and a base line data set for future studies to expand upon.

Ongoing Geoarchaeological Investigations in Eagle Nest Canyon

Charles Frederick and Ken Lawrence removing a micromorphology sample from Skiles Shelter.

Charles Frederick and Ken Lawrence removing a micromorphology sample from Skiles Shelter.

Ken Lawrence, Charles D. Frederick, Jacob I. Sullivan, and Christina Nielsen

This presentation summarizes the 2014 geoarchaeological investigations conducted at Kelley Cave (41VV164), Skiles Shelter (41VV165), and Eagle Cave (41VV167) and highlights elements of the ongoing analyses. Research begun in 2013 at Kelley Cave and Skiles Shelter was expanded and new work was begun in Eagle Cave. The geoarchaeological investigations have encountered new problems, opportunities, and several surprises. The data obtained from each site includes micromorphological samples, high-resolution cube samples, and bulk matrix samples. This presentation discusses the preliminary results of these investigations, their interpretations, and how they correlate to the cultural deposits from the excavations.

The ENC Micromorphing Power Rangers: Challenges, Trials, and Tribulations of Micromorphology in Dry Shelter Deposits

Jake preparing a micromorphology sample from Skiles Shelter for extraction from the wall.

Jake preparing a micromorphology sample from Skiles Shelter for extraction from the wall.

 Jacob I. Sullivan, Charles D. Frederick, and Ken Lawrence

Documenting stratigraphic exposures can be exceptionally difficult within the dry rockshelter deposits from sites within Eagle Nest Canyon—especially when dealing with the micro-stratigraphy often visible.  Fine dust, carried by wind or cascading down a profile face, threatens to obscure these sometimes delicate and subtle lamina we seek to record.  In order to gain a clearer understanding of the site use and depositional history, we have undertaken an ambitious micromorphology collection strategy for all the sites within ENC.  Micromorphology blocks are carefully removed from exposed profiles, and imbedded within a polyester resin which allows for detailed analysis back in the lab. These  block sampling columns provide high resolution vignettes into the natural and anthropogenic depositional processes at work within each of the rockshelters. This paper is an overview of the methodology and analysis of micromorphology samples taken from Profile Section 5 in Eagle Cave.

Flooding Past and Present: Extreme Geomorphic in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands

Noon, view upstream from above Eagle Cave.

Eagle Nest Canyon flooding during the June 20th flood.

Charles D. Frederick, Mark Willis, Ken Lawrence, Jacob I. Sullivan, Rudy Herrmann, Charles Koenig and Steve Black

Although presently a desert environment, extreme flood events are part of life in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. This paper examines two such flood events, one preserved in the deposits of Skiles Shelter and Kelly Cave, and another that occurred on June 20th 2014. These events provide examples of catastrophic floods that punctuate the sedimentary records in the shelters and contrast with the more incrementally formed deposits that occur in association with human activity in these settings.  The presentation also examines the issue of which process is more formative in the local landscape: rare extreme magnitude flood events or low magnitude but higher frequency floods.

Preliminary Results from Zooarchaeological Analysis of Eagle Nest Canyon Sites

Dr. Chris Jergens studying faunal remains under a microscope.

Dr. Chris Jurgens studying faunal remains under a microscope.

Christopher J. Jurgens

Distance and a decade of life separate the subjects of doctoral zooarchaeological research and current Eagle Nest Canyon research efforts.  The author returns to Lower Pecos research as an extension to his earlier doctoral research.  Zooarchaeology and bone technology was the focus of the earlier research at Arenosa Shelter (41VV99), the deeply stratified site located in the Pecos River canyon 25 km (15 miles) southeast of Eagle Nest Canyon. Analysis results from Eagle Nest Canyon sites are comparable with those from the upper strata at Arenosa Shelter. Preliminary analyses of faunal materials from the Eagle Nest Canyon sites reveal patterns that compare favorably with those at Arenosa Shelter.  The patterns are similar for skinning, butchering, and bone fracturing; bone tool and ornament manufacture; and subsequent use wear.  Formal and informally manufactured tools are present in both locales.  Tool forms are very similar. Informally manufactured tools are present at both locales.

2015 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedition – Call for Interns

Preparations for the 2015 field season are underway, and once again we are offering 3 competitive internship positions!  Click the link at the bottom of the page to download a PDF for more information.  To apply, please send CV (with references and contact) along with a 500 word statement of interest to Charles Koenig ( by November 15, 2014.  We had three fantastic interns this past spring, and we look forward to another successful field season!

From left to right: Jacob Sullivan, Brooke Bonorden, and Bryan Heisinger were the three interns this past spring.  They all exceeded expectations, and we look forward to this year's applicants!

(Pictured from left to right) Jacob Sullivan, Brooke Bonorden, and Bryan Heisinger were the ENC interns this past spring.  All three of them played integral roles in the success of the 2014 expedition, and we look forward to working with a new group of interns.

2015 Call for Interns

Link to PDF version of 2015 ENC Expedition Call for Interns:

2015 Eagle Nest Intern-call

Back from the Field

By Steve Black

The 2014 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedition concluded at the end of June. We returned to canyon for several short sessions in July and August to finish taking geoarch samples, document flood damage, backfill several units, and haul out some of the equipment stranded by the June 20 flood. Now that we are back from the field, our research continues apace. This post highlights the ongoing efforts of the ASWT project and its many collaborators, most of whom have been featured in (or contributed ) earlier blog posts.

Charles Koenig and I are back at Texas State in San Marcos where I am concentrating on teaching, writing, and riding herd on graduate students, while he continues to work fulltime on the project. Charles has spent weeks pulling our field data together—six months of fieldwork resulted in tens of thousands of digital files (mainly images), hundreds of field forms (mostly digital), handwritten field notes, sketch maps and hundreds of bagged samples—matrix, micromorph, artifacts, faunal and floral remains, and other samples. This data must be carefully accounted for, backed up, cleaned up, organized, and stored temporarily, essential steps in the research process.

Earlier blog posts have explained how SfM (Structure from Motion) photogrammetry is a crucial part of our field documentation. [For background see The Structure from Motion Revolution.]  But while we had “stitched together” most of the SfM sets and “built” many of the 3D digital models in the evenings while we were in the field, much is left to do. Charles continues to finish up and improve SfM models we didn’t complete in the field and generate new models, integrating these in GIS (with remote help from former ASWT intern Bryan Heisinger). Charles is also summarizing critical data sets in spreadsheets and in graphical form so we can “see” what we have to work with, plot the analyses, and parcel out samples to our many collaborators. The accompanying 2D illustrations of the SfM long profile in Skiles Cave give you an inkling of how many matrix samples of different sorts we collected.

These orthophotos of Profile Section 3 show the TDS-plotted locations of some of the many samples collected at Skiles Shelter.

These orthophotos of Profile Section 3 show the TDS-plotted locations of some of the many samples collected at Skiles Shelter.

We knew from the get-go that we would be collecting many samples of artifacts, ecofacts, and matrix and assessing both their short- and long-term research potential. Analyses of high priority samples are already underway and we will soon be parceling out more samples to the specialists on our collaborative team. But first we have to go back to our research plan, as modified by field reality, and, in concert with the below-mentioned specialists, work out strategies and priorities for diverse, complementary analyses. The studies presently underway are quite diverse.

Drs. Leslie Bush and Kevin Hanselka are getting started on identifying plant remains from a few of the many samples we collected. First, they are concentrating on high-priority macrobotanical samples that TxState graduate student Dan Rodriguez collected in Kelley Cave and Skiles Shelter in 2013. Soon Charles and I will be going over our 2014 samples with the full macrobot team – Dr. Phil Dering, Leslie and Kevin – and work out our strategy. [For background see The Archaebotanical Team Forms.] The macrobotanical analysis will take years, if not decades, to fully complete. This fact highlights the nature of the excellent preservation conditions and the intensity of our sampling approach.

Bristlegrass seeds that Leslie Bush recently found in one of the Kelley Cave samples. Are these the result of human processing or by brought in by rodents?

Bristlegrass seeds that Leslie Bush recently found in one of the Kelley Cave samples. Are these the result of human processing or by brought in by rodents?

Dr. Chris Jurgens is doing parallel analysis of the bones Dan collected from Kelley and Skiles. [For background see “Come Visit.”] Chris and Dan have been working together several days a week for the last month or more. They first clean the bones, most of which are fragmentary, and then Chris examines these under a binocular microscope and calls out categorizations and identifications to Dan, who enters these data in a database. Dan also assigns specimen numbers to informative bones and repackages these. This week they finally finished all of Dan’s samples. Dan is working hard on his thesis, which he should complete this winter.

Another of my TxState graduate students, Matt Basham, is trying to finish his thesis on the cooking features he documented and sampled along the canyon edge overlooking ENC in 2013. Matt is seeing some interesting patterns consistent  with (I think) the hypothesis that most of these burned rock features are the heating elements for earth ovens. These features are on or near the surface and buried very shallowly, hence organic preservation is limited to mainly charred plant remains, which Phil has now identified.

In August we sent a final batch of identified plant remains from Matt’s features and from Dan’s excavations to Dr. Raymond Mauldin at the Center for Archaeological Research at UTSA. Raymond is processing the charred bits to prepare the target samples used in radiocarbon dating, which he will send to an AMS lab he works with. Our fingers are crossed in hopes that this batch of dates will come back in time for Dan and Matt to add this to their existing 14C dates.

TxState graduate student Amanda Castaneda continues to make progress on her thesis research on the bedrock features of the Lower Pecos.  Her work and that of Drs. Tammy Buonasera and Dani Nadel (and others) will be featured in a future blog post.

Blog followers know that geoarchaeological investigation under the leadership of Dr. Charles Frederick is a big component of our ENC research program. [For background see Geoarchs in Action.] Charles and his geoarchaeological colleague Ken Lawrence have come to the canyon numerous times to study the stratigraphy and take samples. And this fall they continue to mentor our former ASWT intern Jake Sullivan and TxState graduate student, Tina Nielsen.

Tina is developing a “microstratigraphic” approach to understanding how Eagle Cave deposits formed for her thesis and geoarchaeological analysis will be an important part of her research. So, she and sometimes Jake have been making weekend pilgrimages to Frederick’s lab near Dublin, Texas. Charles shows them how to use his specialized equipment and lets them loose on analytical tasks like preparing micromorphology samples for thin sectioning , determining sediment size distributions, and measuring magnetic susceptibility. [For background see “My Time in a Geoarch Lab.”]

A pilot study of four matrix samples from Eagle Cave is taking place across the Atlantic at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where paleoentomologist Dr. Eva Panagiotakopulu has been looking for insects. [For background see Archaeoentomology?]  Several months ago Frederick, who talked his former colleague Eva in to taking part in the ENC research, sent her 3 liter matrix samples from several contrasting contexts in Eagle Cave. Recently Eva relayed the excellent news that she has hit “pay bug”, so to speak, and found extremely well preserved and abundant insect parts in several of the samples. This exciting news presents us with the new challenge of raising funds in support of Eva’s research – she will need to gain access to comparative collections from the region and start learning the identification and ecology of the beetles and other insects that are apparent in the pilot samples. This will be the first such study in the Lower Pecos.

Insect parts that Eva Panagiotakopulu has recently and tediously removed from an Eagle Cave matrix sample.

Insect parts that Eva Panagiotakopulu has recently and tediously removed from an Eagle Cave matrix sample.

The massive flash flood in we experienced on June 20th is proving to be very instructive and more destructive than we had realized. [For background see The Canyon Runs Deep and  The Canyon Transformed.] On the positive side, Mark Willis was able to fly along the canyon edge with his quadcopter drone nine days after the flood to document the transformation of the canyon. By comparing the SfM models created by earlier drone photography by Mark and Dr. Chet Walker with the after-the-flood model, we will be able to document and measure the havoc wrought by 11.6” of rain in eight hours.

Mark Willis operates a quadcopter drone along the canyon edge overlooking Eagle Nest Canyon a week and a half after the June 20th flood to document the changes to the canyon floor.

Mark Willis operates a quadcopter drone along the canyon edge overlooking Eagle Nest Canyon a week and a half after the June 20th flood to document the changes to the canyon floor.

Mark's quadcopter is equipped with a digital camera.

Mark’s quadcopter is equipped with a digital camera.

Belated news of the flood landed a new collaborator – Dr. George “Rudy” Herrmann, a retired hydrological engineer who grew up in Del Rio and went to school in Comstock. Rudy is now helping Charles F. put the 2014 Langtry flood in hydrological context. Preliminary water-shed and discharge analysis puts this flood at greater than a 1 in 500-year “return” interval. This means that, on average, floods like the one we witnessed last summer can be expected to reoccur over 500 years apart. Charles F. and Rudy are working now to relate the modern flood history with the ancient flood history documented in our excavations in Skiles Shelter.

Less happily, in late July we were finally able to make it up the canyon and revisit Bonfire Shelter, which we had thought was high and dry above the flood. Safely above the raging waters in the canyon below perhaps, but not dry. We saw clear evidence that run-off waters had poured into the main excavation block from all sides, causing considerable erosional damage to the exposed deposits. Charles K. and I began to document the damage with initial photographs and have put together a report that we are sending out to our archaeological colleagues who have a vested interest in the site. While the ASWT project has its plate more than full with our research elsewhere in the canyon, we could not ignore the Bonfire situation. In concert with the Skiles family we have called on our colleagues for help to conserve substantial portions of the site for future generations, while at the same time re-addressing decades-old research questions and perhaps tackling a few new ones as well.

When the water funneled by the unit shown in Figure 3 reached the main trench, it began to erode the wall underneath the wood-plank path.  Eventually this caused a substantial collapse (left), which also revealed several disintegrating bones.  The fresh collapse exposed dozens of microstratific layers likely associated with Bone Bed 3 (right).

When the run-off water reached the main trench in Bonfire, it began to erode the wall underneath the wood-plank path. Eventually this caused a substantial collapse (left), which also revealed several disintegrating bones. The fresh collapse exposed dozens of microstratific layers likely associated with Bone Bed 3 (right).

Finally, I am pleased to report that we will be presenting papers on our unfolding research at Eagle Nest Canyon at the Texas Archeological Society meeting on October 24th in San Marcos and at the Society for American Archaeology meeting in April, 2015 in San Francisco. Charles K. and I have organized a TAS symposium entitled simply “Eagle Nest Canyon. “ For SAA, I put together a symposium called “Low Impact, High Resolution: Ongoing Investigations in Eagle Nest Canyon.” All of the individuals named  in this post are giving, co-authoring, or contributing data to papers at one or both symposia. I hope to see some of you there.

We may be back from the field for now, but our ENC research has just begun!

We also continue to analyze and report the results of the 2011-2012 ASWT research along Dead Man’s Creek (DMC), a tributary of the Devils River.  TxState graduate student Ashleigh Knapp trying to wrap up her thesis study of the Little Sotol site, a plant baking facility (BRM).  Josh Haefner, who holds his M.A. from TxState, has just volunteered  to study the lithics from three BRMs we sampled in 2012.  As the below photo shows, we recently returned some of the artifacts we documented at Little Sotol and from the DMC site survey reported in Koenig’s 2012 thesis.

Charles Koenig looks on as Rick and Mary Rylander take a first look at a display table with a small selection of the artifacts we documented at the Ryes 'N Sons Ranch along Dead Man's Creek in 2011-2012. This handsome table was crafted by Dick Schlenk from standing deadwood cedars we harvested on the ranch that are thought to date to the 1950s drought.  Charles and Jack Johnson put together the display. Soon after this photo was taken we replaced the clear lexan table top that protects the artifacts.

Charles Koenig looks on as Rick and Mary Rylander take a first look at a display table with a small selection of the artifacts the ASWT project documented at the Ryes ‘N Sons Ranch along Dead Man’s Creek in 2011-2012. This handsome table was crafted by Dick Schlenk from standing deadwood cedars harvested on the ranch that are thought to date to the 1950s drought. Charles and Jack Johnson put together the display. Soon after this photo was taken we replaced the clear lexan table top that protects the artifacts.