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!

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Back in the Canyon: The 2015 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedition

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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

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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

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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

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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!