ENC Take Three: A Look Ahead at the 2016 Season

By Charles Koenig and Steve Black

The 2016 season is planned as the penultimate major field season in Eagle Nest Canyon. We are have a larger field crew, 10 of us full time joined periodically by returning veteran collaborators (e.g., Ken Lawrence), new collaborators (e.g., Karl Reinhard and Isabel Teixeira-Santos), and volunteers, most of whom are also ENC veterans. We will be working at two main locations within Eagle Nest Canyon: Eagle Cave and Sayles Adobe, a new locality.

ENC_CREW_3273.JPG

The 2016 ENC core crew (from left to right): Charles Koenig, Amanda Castaneda, Victoria Pagano, Justin Ayers, Spencer Lodge, Bryan Heisinger, Emily McCuistion, Kelton Meyer, and Stephanie Mueller. 

2016 Eagle Cave Excavations

The 2016 Eagle Cave work will continue exposing, documenting, and sampling the south wall of the main trench (see 2015 Investigations of Eagle Cave). We are off to a running start because several profile sections were exposed at the end of the 2015 season that we documented but did not sample.

41VV0167_CREW_2061.JPG

Bryan Heisinger cleans off the profile while other crew members look on.

We will finish exposing the south wall of the main trench down to the large spall layer, and towards the mouth of the site take a large unit down to test the Collins’ Hypothesis that Paleoindian occupation layers may be deeply buried closer towards the dripline than UT or the Witte Museum excavated. We will continue to use SfM as our primary documentation method, and will maintain our sampling strategy of collecting 100% of the matrix from sampling columns.

We will follow our 2014-2015 excavation strategy focused on a vertical approach, but as we get deeper into the deposits we will be able to open up a horizontal block several meters across. Taking a horizontal approach to sampling the lower deposits will allow us to look at artifact and feature distribution across the earliest site deposits within the confines of the main trench, something that we could not do with the upper deposits. The methods we will use for the lower deposits will likely be a modification to our vertical methods, but still rely primarily on TDS and SfM mapping of artifacts and samples.

41VV0167_CREW_3404.JPG

The view from the total data station (TDS) while work continues on the south wall of the main trench.

Backfilling and Stabilizing the South Wall of the Eagle Cave Main Trench. 

After excavations are complete near the end of 2016 season we will begin the process of stabilizing and backfilling the trench wall to protect it from collapse.  This will likely not be the “final” backfill event (this will occur during the concluding winter/spring 2017 field season), but we will cover the deposits enough to protect them from damage.  We have not yet solidified a plan, but we anticipate using some combination of gravel from the canyon bottom, clean fill brought in from elsewhere, large plastic bins, and backdirt from our Eagle Cave excavations.  We want to be sure whatever we use to backfill can be removed without damaging the intact deposits.

Toward this end, during the 2016 season we will consult engineers and archaeologists who have rockshelter stabilization experience to help us design a plan to carefully stabilize and fully backfill both Eagle Cave and Bonfire Shelter in 2017.

2016 Investigations of Sayles Adobe

As our ENC excavations have progressed, it has become more and more apparent flooding down the Rio Grande has impacted the sites and the natural history of the canyon more than we realized.  Therefore, to address new research questions relating to flooding and the human use of the lower canyon’s alluvial terrace, Texas State graduate student Victoria Pagano will lead excavations into newly named and recorded Sayles Adobe site, located immediately in front and downstream of Skiles Shelter.

41VV2239_GENERAL_1608.JPG

Sayles Adobe as initially recorded in December 2015. Tools staged for the subsequent clearing.

41VV2239_CREW_0018.JPG

Sayles Adobe after clearing was completed this past week (January 12th).

The results of this excavation will be reported in Victoria’s Master’s thesis. The research objectives and questions for Victoria’s project are still in development, but it will involve geoarchaeological analysis of the terrace to gain a better understanding of the frequency, magnitude, and impact of Rio Grande flooding, as well as sample what we hope are well-stratified cultural deposits.  Our ideal would be to find alternating alluvial and cultural deposits, the latter dating the former and the former sealing and protecting the later.

The site is hereby named in honor of pioneering Texas archaeologist E.B. Sayles who first recorded the presence of archaeological sites in Eagle Nest Canyon in the winter of 1932. Sayle’s sketch map of the canyon depicts a dashed in area in front of Skiles Shelter and Kelley Cave that is labeled “Sandy Adobe” but otherwise not described.

Sayles-1932-Langtry-A-B-map-cleaned

E.B. Sayles sketch map of Eagle Nest Canyon. Sayles Adobe is located where Sayles outlined a “Sandy Adobe” towards the confluence of the Rio Grande.

We believe this is how he noted the alluvial terrace knoll which is composed of fine sandy loam (Rio Grande alluvium) that has the same color as dried adobe.  Pagano formally recording the site a few weeks ago and it is officially 41VV2239, meaning the two thousandth, two hundredth and thirty ninth archaeological site recorded in Val Verde County – wow!

In mid-December, 2015 Pagano and ENC co-principal investigator Charles Frederick exposed a small portion of the burned rock layer encountered approximately 1 m below the surface in the borrow pit dug in 2014 during the backfilling of Skiles Shelter.

41VV2239_CREW_1690.JPG

Victoria and Charles Frederick discuss Sayles Adobe.

Pagano recognized and exposed a thin mud drape several centimeters thick that lies directly atop the burned rock deposit.  We think it highly likely that additional cultural deposits will be encountered, minimally representing materials eroding down from Skiles Shelter, but more likely representing primary open-campsite deposits, likely of a short-term nature.

41VV2239_CREW_1704.JPG

Victoria exposing the “mud drape” covering several large fire-cracked rocks.

The 2016 excavation methodology will be based on initial sampling of the borrow pit (Unit A) and just-conducted ground penetrating radar work by Tiffany Osburn of the Texas Historical Commission.  The Sayles Adobe excavation will be stepped as it gets deeper to ensure safety and stability. Victoria will be fleshing out the strategic details as she pulls together her thesis proposal, due in early February, 2016.  Black and Frederick will serve on Pagano’s thesis committee (along with TxState professor Britt Bousman) and will work closely with Victoria to plan and conduct the Sayles Adobe research.

41VV2239_CREW_1552.JPG

As Justin Ayers looks on, Tiffany Osburn of the Texas Historical Commission runs Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) over the surface of Sayles Adobe looking for sub-surface indicators of cultural features. We eagerly await the results!

            We may be able to carry out limited and special-purpose investigations elsewhere in the Canyon during the 2016 season, but finishing our Eagle Cave excavations and gaining a substantive deep sample of Sayles Adobe are our main goals. We anticipate an excellent 2016 season!

Advertisements

Return to the Canyon: The 2016 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedion

ENC2016_CREW_6504

The 2016 ENC Crew stands in the canyon bottom.

 

After a several month hiatus, we’re back!  Yesterday was the first day of the 2016 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedition. Although we didn’t get our hands dirty, we introduced our new crew members to the canyon. We are very excited and are looking forward to an excellent field season. After missing most of the field work last spring, Dr. Steve Black is back in the canyon full time and along with Charles Koenig will be leading the project. Steve and Charles are joined by the largest field crew to ever work on an ENC project (10 total people), including project veterans Bryan Heisinger, Emily McCuistion, and Victoria Pagano (see Back in the Canyon 2015). Bryan and Emily both return to the ASWT project after spending their summers working for the National Park Service (Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park and Denali National Park & Preserve, respectively). Victoria began the Master’s program at Texas State this past fall, and will be carrying out her thesis research this spring under Dr. Black.

This season the returning crew members  are joined by Amanda Castaneda,  Spencer Lodge, and Stephanie Mueller. We also welcome our two 2016  interns: Kelton Meyer and Justin Ayers.  We’ll let each introduce themselves.

Stephanie Mueller:

ENC2016_CREW_6593

The 2016 ENC Crew stands in the canyon bottom.

Greetings!   I’ve been running around the Lower Pecos Canyonlands for about 15 years, first as a curious history student from Sul Ross State University working on a minor in Anthropology.  My parents had acquired a hunting lease near Comstock..  When my dad returned from his usual early morning deer hunt, we would spend the rest of the day exploring the area, often finding dry rockshelters nestled inside the walls of a canyon or the occasional upland historical site.  Wanting to know more about what we were seeing, we visited Seminole Canyon State Park and toured White Shaman Shelter.

Somehow, my mother found out about the Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center signed up for an adult class they offered.  She absolutely loved the experience and told me all about it.   We learned that they were going to offer their first formal field methods in rock art field school through Texas State University in June 2006.  At the time I was working on my Master’s degree in Museum Science at Texas Tech University and needed a good field methods class.  I enrolled, got completely hooked on Lower Pecos archeology, and learned a ton in the process.

I soon got more involved with Shumla as the “Prewitt Scholar” for nearly year and a half and then continued to help out with programs and assist with field projects whenever I could.  After graduating from Texas Tech, I landed an assistant curator position at the Witte Museum. I spent almost five years at the Witte managing and researching the Anthropology Collection which includes a large amount of archeological materials excavated during the 1930s from several dry rockshelters in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands.  When I wasn’t working with the collections or assisting with an exhibition, I would take time off and return to the Lower Pecos volunteering with ASWT or helping Elton Prewitt with field trips in the region.

I am proud to say that I am now a resident of Comstock and very excited to be a full crew member for the 2016 ENC excavations. I’m looking forward to working with a very talented group of individuals and learning all about the cutting-edge methodology being used to record Lower Pecos archeological sites.

Spencer Lodge:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spencer in Eagle Cave.

I’m from Portland, Oregon. Since graduating in 2008 with a B.S. in Anthropology from Portland State University, I primarily worked as an archaeologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a USFWS archaeologist, I traveled to refuges throughout the west to conduct surveys, document archaeological sites, and write reports for various Section 106 projects. In 2012, I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to work as the refuge archaeologist at Desert National Wildlife Refuge. There I was tasked with monitoring the installation of a new visitor center, as well as documenting earth oven sites (known locally as roasting pits) found scattered throughout the Refuge. My research with roasting pits led me to Texas State University where I am pursuing my Master’s degree under the guidance of Dr. Stephen Black.

With the beginning of the new year, I look forward to getting back into the field and working in such a special area. I am primarily excited to see how earth oven use within the LPC compares to dthe roasting pit sites I recorded in Nevada. I am also eager to utilize Structure from Motion and learn more about the geoarchaeology of the area.

Kelton Meyer:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kelton looks on in Skiles Shelter.

 

Hey everyone! I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. I graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in History in 2014, and continued on to my field school in the following months. Since then, I have worked as a cultural resources field, lab, and office technician for CRM companies, and as a field researcher for academic projects. I love to travel, and have been lucky to work in a strong variety of geographic locations (Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming). This past summer I worked with Colorado State University, where I visited incredible sites in the alpine and sub-alpine high in the Rockies, and small rockshelters along the Cache la Poudre River. I’m grateful that archaeology has shown me a multitude of site types, and I am looking forward to seeing all that the Lower Pecos Canyonlands have to offer in the way of prehistoric cultural material. The level of preservation in the Lower Pecos rockshelters will be a new and exciting experience for me, and I am truly looking forward to working with a fun crew on an in-depth project!

Amanda Castañeda:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Amanda in Eagle Cave.

I was born and raised in San Antonio until I boogied up I-35 to attend Texas State for my bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. A fortuitous decision led me to the field methods in rock art field school, hosted by Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center, where I fell in love with the beautiful and majestic landscape and archaeology of the Lower Pecos. Upon graduation, I took a year-long internship position with Shumla which then turned into a full time job for three years. Throughout my tenure at Shumla, I was afforded numerous invaluable opportunities such as guiding site tours, getting an in-depth understanding of research design, and leading work on the Lower Pecos Rock Art Recording and Preservation Project.

With the excellent knowledge and experience that Shumla provided me, I started graduate school at Texas State in the fall of 2013 under the supervision of Dr. Steve Black. While in grad school, I wanted to continue to learn new skills and also contribute knowledge to an area of Lower Pecos archeology that had been previously lacking. Thus, my thesis topic analyzing the morphological variation of ground stone bedrock features (e.g., grinding facets, mortars) was born. I completed my thesis in December 2015 and I am thrilled to be back out in the Lower Pecos full time with the ASWT project. This project is so unique in many ways but my favorite aspect is that we are getting a really comprehensive understanding of the archaeological landscape of Eagle Nest Canyon.

Justin Ayers:

ENC2016_CREW_6575

Justin studies the profile in Eagle Cave.

I am from southern and north central Idaho, if you only count the last 5 years or so. I got my undergrad degree from the University of Idaho in the spring of 2014 in anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology. I have been interested in archaeology since my early teens and I am glad I stayed true to my goals. This is my second job outside of college within the archaeology field and am loving every minute of it. My hobbies include most things outdoor related except for things that revolve around heights. My main hobbies are dirt biking and hiking. I have not seen the new Star Wars yet so do not spoil it for me! Cheers!

Texas State University 2015 Field School Investigations at Horse Trail Shelter

By Amanda Castaneda and Charles Koenig

**This is our final blog post from our 2015 TAS symposium.**

Amanda stands next to her poster at TAS.

Amanda stands next to her poster at TAS.

Location of Horse Trail Shelter and other sites within Eagle Nest Canyon.

Location of Horse Trail Shelter and other sites within Eagle Nest Canyon.

Horse Trail Shelter (41VV166) is an 80-meter long narrow overhang that has served as the trail leading down into Eagle Nest Canyon since historic times. On the surface, Horse Trail is not an impressive site compared to Eagle Cave or Bonfire Shelter. There are several free-standing boulders with ground stone bedrock features, as well as a modest burned rock talus and a few scattered artifacts, but the site lacks the deep overhangs, dry rockshelter deposits, and pictographs present at other sites within the canyon.

Prior to our investigations no previous archaeological work had been conducted at Horse Trail Shelter.  Due to the lackluster surface archaeology, Horse Trail is often overlooked by visitors to the canyon, except for stopping to admire the bedrock features or enjoy a shady stop on the hike out of the canyon.

Research Design

Work at Horse Trail began with minor testing in the spring of 2014. Several shovel tests and small units were excavated to explore the extent of deposits at the site. Early in 2014 we realized Horse Trail contains the same ~A.D. 1340 flood deposit that is present at Kelley Cave and Skiles Shelter, and we recognized this as an opportunity to further investigate the paleo flood record in the canyon. Due to the presence of the flood, Horse Trail could potentially have “sealed” cultural deposits beneath the alluvial cap that we would be able to sample. Further, by sampling Horse Trail we could collect comparable data to the other rockshelter sites within the canyon, providing us information to interpret the natural and cultural occupation history of Eagle Nest Canyon.

Our research goals for the 2015 Texas State University Archaeological Field School were:

  • Understand natural and cultural formation processes
  • Calculate intensity of earth oven construction
  • Excavate around several of the bedrock ground stone features
  • Continue investigations of a pit feature found at the downstream end of the site
View looking upstream in Horse Trail Shelter during field school excavations. Eagle Cave is pictured in the background. The size and shape of the site made for tight working quarters, and shade was always a valuable resource.

View looking upstream in Horse Trail Shelter during field school excavations. Eagle Cave is pictured in the background. The size and shape of the site made for tight working quarters, and shade was always a valuable resource.

The Archaeology of Horse Trail Shelter

Plan map of Horse Trail Shelter created from 3000 ground-based SfM photographs. The excavation units from the 2015 field school are outlined in black.

Plan map of Horse Trail Shelter created from 3000 ground-based SfM photographs. The excavation units from the 2015 field school are outlined in black.

Profile Section 3 after geoarchaeologists cleaned and identified stratigraphic layers.

Profile Section 3 after geoarchaeologists cleaned and identified stratigraphic layers.

Unit F and Profile Section 3

Unit F is the furthest upstream excavation unit in Horse Trail, and placed adjacent to a large boulder with ground stone features in hopes of encountering deposits related to the use of the bedrock features. We did not find any associated artifacts or deposits, and there was only minimal cultural material in the upper 30 centimeters. However, we did encounter a stratified sequence of Rio Grande alluvial deposits. We never hit bedrock, even after excavating over 2 meters below the surface, nor did we encounter any additional cultural deposits. The resulting profile (Profile Section 3) shows alluvial deposits sloping from the rear wall to the dripline. These layers were sampled by Charles Frederick and Ken Lawrence, and the samples are under analysis. These deposits are crucial for understanding the paleo flood sequence for Eagle Nest Canyon, and will provide important data for understanding formation processes at Horse Trail.

Field school students study Profile Section 2

Field school students study Profile Section 2

GOHN Trench and Profile Section 2

To estimate the intensity of earth oven use represented by the small burned rock midden, we placed four adjacent units extending from the back wall to the talus through the center of the BRM.  The below profile shows the area near the rear wall served as the central oven pit, while the talus was a discard zone. We encountered one heating element remnant (Feature 4) with ash and charcoal towards the rear of the trench.  The ~A.D. 1340 flood was not encountered in this trench, which could indicate the plant baking events were post-flood. Estimates of the number of earth ovens and the dating of the site deposits have yet to be completed.

Profile Section 2 (north wall GOHN trench) showing stratigraphic layers. Feature 4 is the basin shape cluster of rocks on left side of image. The central oven pit of the BRM extends from rear wall (far left) to the large rock on right side of image. The boundary between the carbon-stained midden soil and the sterile alluvium is clearly defined. To the right of large rock the discard zone tumbles down the talus.

Profile Section 2 (north wall GOHN trench) showing stratigraphic layers. Feature 4 is the basin shape cluster of rocks on left side of image. The central oven pit of the BRM extends from rear wall (far left) to the large rock on right side of image. The boundary between the carbon-stained midden soil and the sterile alluvium is clearly defined. To the right of large rock the discard zone tumbles down the talus.

Units IL and Feature 2

We encountered an intact earth oven heating element in the center of the site. Feature 2 is a dense concentration of large FCR and carbon-stained sediment just downstream from the GOHN trench in units I and L. The feature is adjacent to a large flat boulder with 24 ground stone features, and stratigraphically beneath the ~A.D. 1340 flood deposit. The analysis of this feature is ongoing.

(Left) Overview of Feature 2 when it was first exposed; (center) Field school students carefully excavating Feature 2; (right) Steve Black sampling the Feature 2 profile. The ~A.D. 1340 alluvial deposit is at the top.

(Left) Overview of Feature 2 when it was first exposed; (center) Field school students carefully excavating Feature 2; (right) Steve Black sampling the Feature 2 profile.
The ~A.D. 1340 alluvial deposit is at the top.

Units JK and Feature 1

During the initial 2014 testing, we exposed a very curious feature (Feature 1) in the downstream end of the site. Matrix distinctions showed the feature was a pit dug into alluvium, and subsequently filled with dirt and rocks. We encountered artifacts in the upper pit fill (e.g., bone awl, biface, projectile point, and flakes), but as we excavated deeper in 2015, few artifacts were found. Large rocks (both FCR and unburned) occurred throughout the pit fill, but not in any obvious pattern. At the very bottom of the pit we exposed a large slab with grinding features on each side. It is unclear why this artifact was placed at the bottom of this pit, but we hope further analysis will shed light on this curious feature.

A.) Feature 1 as originally exposed in 2014. B.) Feature 1 at the beginning of Field School. C.) Bisect across Feature 1. D.) Removing rock fill after bisect. E.) Cluster of rock at the bottom of the pit, located directly on top of the grinding slab. F.) Large grinding slab found at the bottom of the pit.

A.) Feature 1 as originally exposed in 2014. B.) Feature 1 at the beginning of Field School. C.) Bisect across Feature 1. D.) Removing rock fill after bisect. E.) Cluster of rock at the bottom of the pit, located directly on top of the grinding slab. F.) Large grinding slab found at the bottom of the pit.

Field SchoolSummary

Overall, Horse Trail Shelter exceeded our expectations and surprised us daily. We look forward to continuing our analysis and comparing Horse Trail to other sites in Eagle Nest Canyon. We would like to thank Jack and Wilmuth Skiles and all the field school participants shown at right.

**A full PDF is available here: Castaneda&Koenig_TAS2015_FINAL