Journey to the Center of Sayles

By Justin Ayers

Howdy! Justin Ayers here, excited to explain the ongoing bucket auger testing at Sayles Adobe. You may ask what exactly is an auger? The auger is a simple but effective tool for collecting/sampling sediment below the surface without opening excavation units. It is comprised of a lengthy pole with a helical bit (and cylindrical bucket) at the end, which is designed to twist through the earth easily, while the bucket simultaneously collects the sediment displaced by the twisting bit. After one and a half turns of the auger handle, the auger bucket is filled with compressed dirt, and the device is gently pulled up out of the hole and the bucket load is dumped into a screen, examined, and recorded. The process is repeated over and over up to a depth of 3 meters (about 10 feet!).


Me and the auger.

Conducting a bucket auger survey of Sayles is important because it is allowing us to relatively quickly sample the stratigraphy across the terrace, a task that would take months to accomplish using hand excavation units. Further, by combining the different sets of auger data we are able to map out the subsurface deposits (both natural and cultural) of Sayles. These data will contribute to Tori Pagano’s ongoing thesis research (see Tales of Sayles Adobe), as she aims to define and sample the natural and cultural deposits of the terrace.

Bucket Auger Process

Tori’s plan is to build on the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey conducted at the site in January by Tiffany Osburn. We wanted to follow the GPR grid with our bucket augering as closely as possible so we could investigate several interesting radar anomalies seen at certain locations and depths within the terrace.  Happily, our collaborator geoarchaeologist Ken Lawrence kindly allowed us to borrow his bucket auger!


East-west GPR transect (top) and west-east transect (bottom). The yellow arrows point to the same anomaly in both transects, indicated by the upside-down V-shape.  This anomaly is approximately 1 meter (~3 feet) below the ground surface. These are the types of anomalies we wanted to hit with the auger testing.


We wanted to use the bucket auger tests to begin to “ground-truth” the GPR anomalies (i.e., determine what the anomalies are caused by).  We also wanted to compare the sediment sampled by the auger to the exposed stratigraphy in the “Borrow Pit” excavation area.  The auger testing is showing us that the stratigraphy of Sayles Adobe is more complex (and interesting) than that seen so far in our initial excavation exposure in the Borrow Pit.


You can see the bucket auger on the left, leaning against a tree. To the right you can see the rest of the equipment  we used during auger testing: Munsell color chart, 2mm geologic sieve, 5-gallon bucket, and lots of recording forms!

Augering Procedures

Step 1: Stake out targeted locations of auger columns.

  • Transect sampling intervals – 4 meters apart
  • Shoot in surface points with TDS (Total Data Station)

Plan map of Sayles Adobe showing east-west bucket auger transect. The red dots are the auger tests (laid out 4 meters apart) that have been completed thus far.

Step 2: Begin sampling

  • The auger excavates a 10cm diameter hole, and each bucket full of dirt is ~8cm deep. Once a bucket of sediment is collected, the auger is pulled up to the surface.

From left to right: auger in the hole, removing the auger, the auger fully out of the ground, and finally dumping the sediment into the sieve.

Step 3: Sieve the sediment.

  • Once the bucket is pulled out of the auger hole, it is dumped into a 2mm sieve. Only the fine sand/silt mixture will pass through the screen, leaving snail shells, roots, FCR (Fire-Cracked Rock), and debitage on the screen.

Dumping the sediment into the sieve. The bucket auger bit is clearly visible.

Step 4: Documentation

  • A metric tape (or “pocket stadia”) is used to measure the depth of the hole after each bucket auger sample was removed. This allows us to monitor our progress and make the auger data comparable from one auger column to the next.
  • The sediment texture varies from a fine sand to a compact clay-silt.
  • Color is recorded using a Musell color chart. We found that the 10YR color sheet works best for us.
  • Lastly, general notes are made of the sediment, e.g., organic materials if present, FCR, charcoal, & ped toughness (Wikipedia: ped = a unit of soil structure such as an aggregate, … block, or granule, formed by natural processes.)

Step 5: Homogenize and Sample

The sediment that falls through the screen is homogenized (stirred around) in the bucket before we collect a small representative sample. After the field season Tori, under the tutelage of geoarchaeologists Dr. Charles Frederick and Ken Lawrence, will process the samples to determine grain size and test for magnetic susceptibility (among other things). Tori plans to use the auger column data to create composite stratigraphic profiles (sections) across the terrace that will be integrated with GPR and other lines of evidence.


A “cube” from the auger testing of Sayles Adobe awaiting further geoarchaeological analysis.

I should note that while the bucket auger does its job very well, it mixes the sediment in each bucket load together such that thin layers only a few cm thick are hard to detect.  And even though we are careful to insert and remove the auger gently, inevitably there is some admixture of sediment from the walls of the hole.  In other words, we end up with somewhat averaged samples in 8cm increments. We homogenize each sample to make sure it truly represents an average of each increment. By carrying out each auger test in exactly the same systematic way,  we can compare apples to apples with our auger samples and differentiate significant stratigraphic changes.

Luckily Sayles Adobe has very nice silty and sandy deposits (as opposed to compact clay or gravel) and testing has gone without a hitch … for the most part. Sometimes we are impeded by rocks and roots, forcing us to move our auger test column to a new location. If we encounter something hard that we can’t get through, we simply move the auger hole 30-40cm over from the original location and try again. Overall, we able to get down to the full 3-meter depth in only about 50% of our tests. In the other half we are stopped by burned rocks or other obstructions (like large mesquite roots) before reaching maximum depth.

What Are We Finding?

Based on our initial excavation in the Borrow Pit area along with the GPR survey findings, we suspected that we would hit the upper mud drape (I will explain why I say “upper” in a bit) around the same depth at multiple points on the terrace (see below profile of the Borrow Pit in Sayles).


The east profile of the “Borrow Pit” in Sayles. The “upper” mud drape is noted as S003,  just to the left of the orange tag.

So far we have found that the mud drape is not a perfectly flat horizontal layer, it tends to follow the topography of the deposits it covers. What I mean is that in places there may have been exposed rocks or humps in the ground that the mud drape settled over during the flood event, which may be the AD 1340 flood that we documented at nearby Skiles Shelter and Kelley Cave.  Many (all?) of these rocks are FCR that were capped by the mud drape. The upper mud drape is thin and hard (clay-silt), compared to the fine sand and sandy silt that makes up the majority of the site’s deposits. In essence, the mud drape seals the cultural material that lies beneath it. 


Bryan standing in the “Sandbox” area at Sayles looking at FCR that he is just beginning to expoose. The mud drape in this unit (denoted by yellow arrow) is very thin compared to that seen in the Borrow Pit. Several adjacent auger columns in this area were terminated by hitting rocks and we suspect that some massive FCR accumulation must be present.

Since the mud drape covers the top of the uppermost cultural layer at Sayles Adobe, when we reach the upper mud drape the cultural layer should be directly beneath it. However,  this cultural layer contains many FCR and often the bucket auger is stopped by the rocks. The auger will dig through most Sayles Adobe sediment quickly, but when you hit a sizable rock … everything stops. This is not considered a bad thing though. Usually when we hit a rock, we bring up chips of said rock that reveal if it is FCR. The FCR fragments tended to smell of sulfur when broken by the auger bit. The FCR encountered  about one meter below the surface tells us that we are hitting the upper cultural layer … jackpot!

So far we have not created schematic stratigraphic profiles for all the auger tests, but we created a preliminary illustration based on a test from the east side of the site. The stratigraphic patterns in this auger test compare well to the stratigraphy observed in the Borrow Pit and Sandbox excavation, so we are anxious to complete augering of the entire site so we can get a better map of the stratigraphy!


Stratigraphic profile created using data collected from an auger test. This profile matches nicely with the exposed stratigraphy in both the Borrow Pit and Sandbox areas of the site.

Looking back at the GPR research done in January, the upper anomalies seen appear to have been the upper cultural layer. The FCR are in a large enough concentration to show significant feedback from the GPR. Three of our west terrace auger tests were stopped at a depth between 80cm-1m when we hit rock—usually FCR, which the auger could just not dig through.  In fact, the Sandbox excavation area was laid out as the result of our first east-west bucket auger transect.  Next week we should expose the concentrated FCR and see why so many burned rocks are piled up in one area.

Plans for the Future

Auger testing at Sayles is an ongoing process, with more sampling columns on the way. So far, only an east to west transect has been completed. We just started on our north to south transect, targeting more anomalies from the GPR survey. If additional FCR/cultural layers are encountered, it is likely that more units will be opened up for further research. The emerging picture from the bucket auger data is proving to be quite informative and tantalizing.  Hint, hint:  we have encountered deeper layers of mud drape silt and of cultural material yet to be exposed!


Tori and I very excited about a flake from an auger test!

Mortar She Wrote

By Amanda Castañeda

Most of the previous ASWT blog posts have focused on our ongoing excavations in Eagle Nest Canyon, with a few thrown in about earth ovens and our undying love for burned rock. So I thought it was time for a little change of pace! This post highlights another very common archaeological feature found in many of the sites within Eagle Nest Canyon and elsewhere across the Lower Pecos Canyonlands —ground stone bedrock features. Bedrock features, as I will often refer to them, include “slicked” areas, shallow grinding basins, deep mortar holes, and everything else in between.


Amanda cleaning off bedrock features.

I first became interested in bedrock features during my tenure at Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center. We went to rockshelters across the region to record rock art, and bedrock features were a common occurrence in many sites. Most intriguing were bedrock features that were over 50 cm deep. I thought to myself, what on earth were the Lower Pecos inhabitants doing with these features when you can barely touch the bottom with your fingertips? Further, despite the ubiquitous nature of bedrock features in the Lower Pecos, they represent a largely understudied part of the archaeological record. In part, this is why I chose to explore this prehistoric technology for my recently completed Master’s thesis at Texas State University.


A volunteer demonstrating the great depth of some of these bedrock features. Neither hand can touch the bottom of these two bedrock mortar features.

Bedrock Features 101

Archaeologists typically categorize these features by morphology and the perceived type of activity (e.g., pounding, reciprocal grinding, circular grinding, etc.). For example, grinding facets are shallow basins likely used to grind foods with a back and forth or circular grinding motion. Mortars are deep holes that were utilized for crushing or pounding, probably using straight up and down motions or possibly rotary or circular motions in some instances. Lastly, “slicked” areas are flat surfaces that have a shiny, smooth appearance and their function is unknown. The highly polished surface could be the result of multiple activities such as polishing hides or another activity that might include oily substances. Ethnographically, bedrock features of all shapes and depths were used for a variety of activities, mostly related to food-processing.


Three deep “mortars” are surrounded by much shallower “grinding facets.”

While generic terms, such as the ones listed above, have been used in previous bedrock feature research around the world, prior to my study there had not been any bedrock feature research completed in the Lower Pecos.

Therefore, I was most interested in creating a baseline data set of the morphological variation of these features. In other words, are we able to pick out any unique “types” of features and how are these morphologies distributed across the landscape? Further, using other lines of evidence such as use-wear patterns, can we determine what kinds of foods were being processed in these features? Essentially, I wanted to take a broad approach to my research and try to gain a better understanding of how these features were utilized by the hunting and gathering peoples of the Lower Pecos.

Recording Bedrock Features in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands

Data Collection


Amanda recording bedrock features at Eagle Cave, and undoubtedly suffering from “bedrock butt.”

For my research I recorded morphological attributes (e.g., shape/size), use-wear characteristics (e.g., wear patterns left behind on the rock from different processing activities), and metric data (e.g., measurements) for 824 individual bedrock features at 10 sites using a combination of Structure from Motion (SfM) Photogrammetry (see SfM Revolution) and traditional field documentation methods. I recorded morphological attributes and macroscopic use-wear patterns using the form below.

BRF Attribute Form

I used SfM as the primary mapping and documentation method for each of the bedrock features I recorded. From the 3D data, I was able to create high resolution feature maps, and gather measurements for each feature in the mapping software ArcGIS.


Examples of feature maps created via SfM and ArcGIS: a) orthophoto of surface; b) a digital elevation model (DEM) of the same surface; and c), a slope model of the same surface derived from the DEM.

Statistical Data Analysis

I focused the majority of my analyses on three different measurements: maximum depth of each feature and two axes across the opening of each feature. To summarize my results, I completed a cluster analysis using the metric data, which resulted in four distinct groups of bedrock features. The majority of the features (97%) fell into one very large, closely related group. I should note that Cluster 1 was comprised of four smaller subgroups, but there is only so much you can do for a M.A. thesis and still finish in decent time (as my committee wisely advised me!). The remainder of the bedrock features formed three smaller groups.


Looking at the graphic below, it’s easy to see how some of these groups were formed. Cluster 4 features are all extremely deep, between 40 and 60 cm. Cluster 2 features are moderately deep, between 20 and 30 cm. However, there are pieces of the puzzle the graphic doesn’t show. For example, the majority of Cluster 4 features have completely straight/vertical walls, while Cluster 2 features have sloping walls that form an overall conical shape. These types of observations were exciting because they are diagnostic attributes of these clusters that are independent of the cluster analysis. Said differently, they support the distinction of two different cluster which also had two different activities going on.


As for Clusters 1 and 3, they seem to blur together in the above chart. The reason for this is that Cluster 3 features are defined by at least one considerably long axis at the opening of the feature. Looking strictly at the length of the axis measurements, Cluster 3 separates itself from the rest of the sample. Cluster 1, in both graphics, is all over the map. This cluster contains a very wide range of variation in all aspects of the feature, depth, length, and width.

Axis v Axis

So essentially what the cluster analysis had shown me is that there are distinct morphological groupings of features, and each had a diagnostic characteristic that defined the group (except Cluster 1). The next thing I wanted to determine was if there were any other attributes of these clusters that further support distinguishing them from one another?

Bedrock Features on the Lower Pecos Landscape

First I looked at location. How are these clusters distributed across the landscape? Unsurprisingly, all ten sites have features that are included in the Cluster 1 group. In fact, four of ten sites have features that only fall into Cluster 1. The other three clusters are more restricted in their distributions. Cluster 2 occurs at three sites, Cluster 3 is present at five sites, and Cluster 4 only occurs at two sites. These data suggest that across the region, the majority of the food-processing that occurred could be completed in a non-specialized, Cluster 1-type feature. This could be due to the relatively small amounts of food being processed in most features or to the predominance of certain foods that did not need a specialized surface.


Use-wear Patterns of Bedrock Feature Clusters

The next characteristic I wanted to examine were the use-wear patterns. Did each cluster have distinctive or diagnostic wear patterns that might help me interpret the types of food that were processed in those features? Before I start throwing terms at you, let me first explain a little bit about use-wear studies on ground stone surfaces. In regards to ground stone bedrock features, differential use-wear across the surface of a feature can show what type of activity happened most recently. Is the surface pecked and rugged, or is it completely smooth to the touch? These conditions tell different stories about what happened last with that particular feature. When making use-wear observations, the objective is to observe traits about the macrotopography, or the high and low points.

Figure 4.4-Use Wear Patterns_FINAL

Illustrations of ground stone use-wear patterns. Redrawn from Dubreuil (2004:Figure 1).

Now going back to my data, the use-wear patterns further distinguished the Clusters from one another. Clusters 1 and 3 had very similar use-wear- they had rugged or pecked surfaces with either leveled or rounded high points. Cluster 1 feature walls was a rugged surface with either levelled high points or rounded high points. This suggests the area was first pecked to roughen the surface, and then different activities occurred to produce the modification on the high points of the feature. Levelled high points could have resulted from significant amounts of stone on stone contact (e.g., during fiber extraction), or if the processed material was hard in nature (e.g., seeds). In the instances with rounded high points, the surfaces were initially pecked, and then some sort of “soft” material was processed that smoothed the highs and lows of the peck marks. As the substance moved across the surface and around the high points, the surfaces became rounded. Softer materials potentially include a variety of plants (e.g., baked agave or sotol, nut meats, fruits) and animal tissue.


Amanda contemplating use-wear.

Cluster 2 features, the somewhat deep ones, had mostly leveled surfaces on the walls with some gradual, smooth rounded high points. This suggests that materials being processed in these relatively deep features were somewhat abrasive nature, and that the individuals using these features did not feel the need to re-peck the sides of the shaft to roughen the surface. The intensive levelling of the walls also supports the probability of a rotary motion being used, as to increase the contact between walls and the material being processed.

The most common use-wear pattern on the walls of Cluster 4 features are rugged upper walls and mostly leveled lower walls. This pattern suggests the upper walls did not come into contact with either the processing implement or the material being processed. Similar to the walls in Cluster 2 features, the lower half of these features must have been relatively full of semi-abrasive materials. This also suggests a pounding motion was utilized rather than a rotary or gyratory motion since the upper walls showed little signs of wear. However, two of the features in Cluster 4 are leveled on all portions of the walls throughout the shaft, suggesting a rotary motion may have caused the leveling.

Now for the Hole Story

So to sum it all up, there are definitely different morphological types of bedrock features in the Lower Pecos. One of my original goals was to put forth a regional typology of bedrock features. Although the cluster analysis resulted in four highly different morphological groups, Cluster 1 includes an incredibly large range of feature sizes and makes up the majority of the data set. Until Cluster 1 is examined more thoroughly for intra-cluster pattering, I think it is premature to create a formal typology. Clusters 1 and 3 are both highly variable and elude a classification that can encompass all of the morphological and metric variation. Other groups (Cluster 2 and 4) are less variable and likely represent a true morphological and functional type. At this time, I will tentatively classify features in Cluster 1 and 3 as general grinding surfaces, features in Cluster 2 as conical mortars, and features in Cluster 4 as cylindrical mortars.


Examples of bedrock features within each cluster: a) Cluster 1 features; b) Cluster 2 features circled in red; c) a Cluster 3 feature; and 4), Cluster 4 features circled in red.

Behaviorally, the overwhelming presence of generalized features such as the ones in Clusters 1 and 3 makes sense for a mobile, foraging group. These features take very little time to create, and they were likely used to process many different foods, whatever the group could find on any given day. Other feature types (e.g., Cluster 2, conical mortars; and Cluster 4, cylindrical mortars) were highly specialized and only occurred at certain sites. This pattern could have implications about general lifeways for Lower Pecos hunter-gatherers. Perhaps these foraging peoples were using the many sites with general purpose features for a majority of the year, but sites with specialty features could signal use during certain times, such as a harvest or large social gathering. These theoretical ideas along with experimental work can help archaeologists push our interpretations of ground stone bedrock feature technology past just food processing and into theories regarding site reuse and optimal technological adaptations.

Before I began my research, I expected the results to show many more distinguishable groups or morphological types. Undoubtedly, further analysis of the data will yield a greater insight into what morphological groups may be hiding in Cluster 1, which might change how I’ve interpreted the data thus far! There is so much more to learn, these types or groups are not set in stone…well they are, but you know what I mean. There are also other avenues to explore such as residue studies, which could give us an even better understanding of exactly what was processed in a feature. There are experiments to be done to figure out how long it takes to create a feature 50 cm deep in limestone! We’ve only just begun to peck the surface. But isn’t that the most exciting thing about archaeology? The more we learn, the more questions we have, and the whole process begins again.

This blog post is meant to be a simplified summary, there is much more to this story! If you want to learn more about bedrock features in the Lower Pecos, you can download my full thesis from the Texas State Library webpage here.


References Cited

Dubreuil, Laure                                                                                                                                              2004    Long-term Trends in Natufian Subsistence: a Use-Wear Analysis of Ground                       Stone Tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 31:1613-1629.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Return to the Canyon: The 2016 Eagle Nest Canyon Expedion


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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!