The Developing Tales of Sayles Adobe

By Victoria Pagano


E.B. Sayles 1932 sketch map of Eagle Nest Canyon.  Note the area labeled “Sandy Adobe.” Courtesy Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, UT Austin.

Tori here, former 2015 ASWT intern and current Texas State anthropology graduate student. This season I am back leading excavations at the Sayles Adobe site as I collect data for my master’s thesis.

The terrace site of Sayles Adobe (41VV2239) sits just within the mouth of Eagle Nest Canyon (ENC), a short distance up the canyon from its confluence  with the Rio Grande. On E.B. Sayles’ 1932 sketch map of the canyon the site area is indicated as “sandy adobe,” with no mention of cultural material. Apparently, it was considered to be just a natural terrace formation.


1958 photographs showing the site area looking toward the mouth of the canyon (above);  Skiles Shelter as viewed while standing on Sayles’ “sandy adobe” (below). Courtesy Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, UT-Austin.



During the Ancient Southwest Texas Project’s 2014 field season, the massive June 21st flood (see The Canyon Runs Deep) deposited a thick layer of flotsam atop the back dirt pile for the Skiles Shelter excavations. In order to finish filling in the open excavation units, the crew decided to take fill  from the alluvial terrace deposit nearby. This seemed like a good choice until the crew encountered fire-cracked rocks (FCR) about a meter below a thick bed of sandy Rio Grande alluvium. Digging stopped immediately and the area remained untouched (by archaeologists) until late 2015.



And so it begins..

In December 2015, a crew of five: Drs. Steve Black and Charles Frederick, Charles Koenig, Amanda Castaneda, and myself, carried out a three-day reconnaissance of the alluvial terrace and 2014 borrow pit with the idea that this as-yet-unrecorded site might make a good thesis research project.


Discovery borrow pit, pre-clearing and post-clearing, December, 2015.

My initial observations were limited.  It was clear that the locality was an alluvial terrace and that the burned rocks that the 2014 crew had encountered were not likely just discard washing down from Skiles Shelter. But vegetation across the terrace made any sort of determination on the full extent of the site difficult. We cleared just enough vegetation to get a better idea about the morphology of the terrace. The most promising formation model is that large limestone boulders in the canyon bottom and the canyon wall created a catchment for alluvial sediment during back flooding from the Rio Grande. Repeat flood deposits created an open terrace just a few meters downstream from


Current views of Sayles Adobe from the canyon rim looking toward the mouth of the canyon (above) and (below) the large boulders in the canyon bottom that seem to have formed a massive sediment trap. Skiles Shelter that could be used for certain activities between deposition events. This formation process would make Sayles Adobe a bit different in comparison to other investigated terraces in the Lower Pecos.

During this visit we worked to clear vegetation from and around the initial exposure to facilitate testing at the site. A quick surface reconnaissance (mostly on hands and knees) revealed scattered FCR on the surface at multiple locations across the terrace. Frederick and I cleaned and squared off two exposed faces of the borrow pit to examine the stratigraphy. I soon discovered a thin, compact layer of very fine silt, directly above (covering) several burned rocks amid carbon-stained matrix. Frederick recognized the silt layer as a flood (mud) drape.  The stratigraphic sequence looked very promising.




Extent of the flood drape exposure at the end of the December 2015 visit. You can clearly see the color and textural changes.  From top to bottom: light brown sandy loam, tan silt flood drape, and burned rock and carbon-stained matrix below.


Understanding the Geoarcheaology of the Canyon

The excavation and analysis of Sayles Adobe is being conducted as part of my Master’s thesis research in order to reconstruct and understand the natural formation of the terrace and document the prehistoric uses of the locale. I hope to be able to address four main research questions:

  • What is the nature and timing of flood events during the human history at Sayles Adobe?
  • What can the Sayles Adobe terrace deposits tell us about the climatic and environmental conditions at the time the formed?
  • Do flood deposits at Sayles Adobe correlate to other flood deposits seen in shelters in the canyon?
  • How do site use behaviors seen at Sayles Adobe relate to other sites in the canyon?

The primary focus of our excavations will be to collect data aimed towards the cultural and natural formation processes witnessed at the Sayles Adobe terrace. This will form the foundation for my interpretation and analysis of behavioral patterns witnessed at the site.  The cultural materials and geoarchaeological samples will be analyzed and compared to the other sites within Eagle Nest Canyon.

2016 Sayles Adobe Investigations

Our first session focused on testing the Borrow Pit area that was exposed in 2014 and cleaned up in December 2015. During this time myself, Spencer Lodge, and Kelton Meyer, worked to carefully peel away the mud drape in the north to south profile (PS01) and reveal as much stratigraphy as we could.


The mud drape could easily be “peeled” off in chunks from the charcoal stained sediment below.


Annotated Profile Section 01 (PS01).










To add greater resolution to the Sayles Adobe tale, Tiffany Osburn of the Texas Historical Commission visited Sayles and carried out a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey across the terrace. Using two different range antennas, she made multiple passes in a grid and in transects to provide us with an idea of what might be under the surface that we wouldn’t know without completely excavating the site. The GPR results  will aid in the interpretation of (and guide) further excavations at the site.

A priority of our second session at the site was to continue work in the Borrow Pit area. The ultimate goal of the work here is to create a deep profile that can be used to document and sample the natural and cultural stratigraphy of the site.

Sayles 400 Annotated

Partially annotated results of the 270Hz GPR survey. Courtesy of Tiffany Osburn.

Using GPR data, we began working to ground-truth these results by conducting bucket auger tests that reach up to 3m deep along the East-West and North-South axis of the site.  (More on our auger testing in a few weeks, when intern Justin Ayers takes on the Sayles auger survey).


Ongoing investigations at Sayles Adobe.

Some readers might ask, why even bother with a site like Sayles Adobe in a canyon that has such culturally rich rockshelters?  In comparison to those sites, Sayles may seem like a pipsqueak with not much to offer.  But, in truth Sayles is no less exciting or enriching than the sheltered sites. Sayles provides an opportunity to see what other activities were taking place in Eagle Nest Canyon that we can’t see in the shelters or along the canyon rim.  Our initial work shows that we have at least one sealed cultural layer that has not been disturbed by later occupation. In contrast, hunter-gatherers returned to the rockshelters time and time again, with the remains of each visit co-mingled with that of the last and mixed through pit digging, plant baking, and many other activities. As ASWT has documented in high resolution, the rockshelters have palimpsest deposits with complicated stratigraphy and few, if any, expansive areas of sealed cultural deposits.  Sayles Adobe has the potential to add a new level of understanding to human behaviors and natural formation processes of deposits in the canyon.

Our goal isn’t just to put together a chronology of the use of the canyon over the past few thousand years, it is to weave together an understanding of the people and the natural world in which they lived.  Stay tuned for further developments.


A Sabinal arrow point has just come to light about 10 cm below the flood drape.


Rocky Midden High

By Bryan Heisinger

There is no denying that fire cracked rock (FCR) has a heavy presence in the research of the Ancient Southwest Texas Project. On a day to day basis, we sit on, trowel through, trip over, and often smell (strange.. I know) the enormous pile of FCR that fills Eagle Cave. Anyone who has worked with us long enough knows that we take our rocks seriously — and for good reason! By studying the FCR from our excavations we hope to address research questions about earth oven use and intensification in and around Eagle Nest Canyon.


Charles loves his burned rocks.

FCR is the by-product of rocks that have been used for cooking and heating purposes. A rock becomes “fire cracked” after it is exposed to intense heating/cooling and reuse in an earth oven or other thermal environments. Continuous episodes of thermal cycling cause the rocks to fracture into smaller, angular shaped pieces and once the rocks become too small to retain heat for cooking they are discarded in favor of newer/larger rocks. The accumulation of tossed FCR typically form in the shape of ring around the oven pit and in the case of rock shelters, they begin to form talus slopes. Ultimately, this ring or discard zone is categorized archaeologically as a burned rock midden.


In order to effectively study FCR and burned rock middens, reliable methods needed to be established for quantifying and categorizing the rock that we find during excavations. The Rocksort recording procedure was created as a way to document FCR using known size and attribute divisions that are common among earth oven literature and experimental studies. The size of FCR can tell us some information about the use-life of that rock and approximately how many times it was used for cooking purposes before it was discarded. The attributes of that particular rock (e.g. pitted limestone, roof spall, igneous/metamorphic rock) can help us determine the general source of the rock (e.g., uplands vs. canyon bottoms vs. within rockshelters).

It is important to note that we do not collect and record every rock that we encounter during excavation. Such a process would be extremely time consuming and would produce lots of repetitive data. Rather, we have been collecting and weighing FCR through selective column samples along our exposed profiles and other areas that we deem necessary or informative at our excavation sites. Through this selective Rocksort documentation, we will gain a representative sample of the varying densities and sizes of rock that are occurring at the sites we are investigating in and around Eagle Nest Canyon.

During the Rocksort process we split the FCR from a particular layer/strat or feature on a grid board (lines at 7.5 cm) into the following categories based on the maximum dimension : < 7.5 cm, between 7.5 -11 cm, between 11-15 cm, and > 15 cm (Fig. 1.). These rock size categories are based on the 20,000-odd FCR that were counted and measured as part of excavations at the Higgins site in San Antonio, directed by our very own Dr. Steve Black (see Higgins BRM).


Bryan and ASWT volunteer Kris Bobbit rocksorting an excavation layer in Eagle Cave.

Furthermore, this separation allows us to identify the stages of thermal fracture in the FCR and whether or not that particular layer/strat or feature being excavated is related to a discard event (e.g., small rocks <11 cm), a cooking event (e.g., larger rocks >11 cm), or some combination thereof.


A.) Predominately larger FCR >11  cm were found within cooking features; B.) Predominately smaller FCR 11< cm were found within discard zones.


Each square on the Rocksort board measures 7.5 cm and provides a speedy method for quickly measuring and grouping the hundreds of rocks that need to be sorted. After the rocks are sorted, they are photographed on the board and weighed according to their size and attribute class (Fig 2.).  This data is then entered on the excavation form and the sorted FCR is dumped into the back dirt piles.


Fig. 2: The ASWT Rocksort table (above) and the always famous Rocksort board (below).


The Big Picture

As mentioned earlier, the ultimate goal of our FCR documentation is to measure the amount of earth oven cooking that took place in Eagle Nest Canyon and other rockshelters and open sites in the Lower Pecos Region. However, you may be wondering how in the name of Einstein do we siphon our Rocksort data into something understandable?

Sparing you the math, we can take this data and calculate the approximate volume, FCR mass, and FCR density  of the burned rock middens in and around Eagle Nest Canyon. This data – with the help of radiocarbon dating – can tell us when and how much earth oven cooking took place at each site in the canyon over time. Additionally, we can compare the Eagle Nest Canyon FCR data with that from previous ASWT projects along the Devils River to give us an idea of the amount of earth oven intensification that occurred across the Lower Pecos landscape over time. Pretty cool right?

What it all boils down to is having the ability in the future to be able to estimate the number of earth ovens at different sites with minimal excavation. We hope to be able to not only compare earth oven features across the Lower Pecos but possibly North America.









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!

Eagle Cave South Trench 2015: Profile Section 12

By Emily McCuistion

**This is the third of four blog posts showcasing a different Profile Section that was documented and sampled during the 2015 field season. Each of these Profile Sections has different sediment characteristics, artifacts, and ecofacts. Profile Section 12 is located further towards the dripline than Profile Sections 9 or 17 For a location map see 2015 Investigations at Eagle Cave.**


Emily standing next to her poster at TAS.

Profile Overview

Profile Section 12 (PS12) is located centrally in the south trench wall of Eagle Cave at a point of transition from superior preservation (just behind the shelter’s dripline) to increasingly fragmented organics and compacted sediments near the back of the shelter. The profile is characterized by dense fire cracked rock (FCR) from earth oven cooking capping alternating deposits of fibers (plant remains), FCR, and latrine deposits.


Profile Section 12 prior to sampling.


Stratigraphic boundaries of Profile Section 12

Strat Descriptions

(Listed top to bottom)

  • S174: Disturbed, dominated by dense FCR.
  • S177: Dense FCR with ash and some fiber.
  • S229: Thin lens of burned fiber.
  • S230: Thin lens of “ashy” silt with little FCR.
  • S231: Thin lens of FCR in loose, “ashy” silt.
  • S232: Charcoal stained “ashy” silt; few FCR.
  • S233: Decomposed fibers in a silty matrix.
  • S234: Fiberous; possibly urine compacted.
  • S235: Lens of fiber and coprolites in silt matrix, extends only ~40cm into exposure. S272: Compact with irregular topography and some fibers; possibly urine compacted; overlaying or intermixed with FCR.
  • S236: Semi-compact “ashy” silt with few FCR, some fibers likely intrusive from S234.
  • S241: Small patch of fiber and coprolites.
  • S237: Dense FCR in a loose “ashy” silt.
  • S238: Thick fiber layer with scattered FCR.
  • S239: Originally thought to be intact but found to be disturbed during excavation.
  • S240: Originally thought to be intact but found to be disturbed during excavation.
  • S285: White “ashy” silt with crumbly limestone and FCR


Profile Sampling

Two sampling columns (Units 57 and 64) were excavated by stratigraphic layer (strat) in the eastern 2/3rd of the profile. When sampling strats individually was not feasible, several strats were combined into a unit-layer.


Layers excavated in sampling column units 57 and 64, re-projected onto PS12. Layer boundaries are based on the east-west midline of the units.

Data Summary

The graphs below present data from the sampling columns (Units 57 and 64). Note that data correlate imperfectly in the sampling columns as some strats were lumped together into layers during excavation, and other strats were not present in both sampling columns. An asterisk indicates that a strat was sampled individually in one unit, but was not sampled individually in the unit-layer listed in parenthesis. For instance, within Matrix volume, S229 and S232 were collected individually in Unit 64, but S230 was not present in Unit 64. In Unit 57, S229, S232, and S230 were collected as part of Layer 2.


Matrix Volume does not include FCR >1 inch. No Matrix collected from S174, S177, or S239.


Fiber mass is from ½” sieve.


FCR mass includes only FCR >1 inch. FCR data was not taken for S174.


Lithic debitage count is from ½” sieve.


Artifacts found in sampling PS12 include a bone tool, a groundstone fragment, a wooden artifact with cut marks, 6 fiber knots and 2 strands of cordage, 2 biface fragments, 2 cores, 8 modified flakes, 3 painted pebbles, 19 manuports, 2 quids, 45 paleofeces or fragments of paleofece, and abundant faunal and botanical remains.


The Future of PS12!

Anticipated data and study includes radiocarbon dating, faunal, botanical, coprolite, pXRF, micromorph, residue and artifact analysis. PS12 has an important role to play in understanding site use, formation and preservation processes at Eagle Cave.


Dr. Kevin Hanselka (left) annotates PS12 and Emily (right) excavating one of the two sampling columns in PS12.

**A PDF version of the poster is available here: McCuistion_TAS2015_PS012_FINAL

Graduate Project on Archaeology Blogs

ASWT Project blog readers:

Our blog is participating in a graduate student research project looking at blogs and social media in Archaeology.  This project is designed by Fleur Schinning at Leiden University in the Netherlands.  If you have a few spare minutes, please take her survey by following this link:

From Fleur:
I am currently writing my master’s thesis as a part of my specialisation in Heritage Management at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in which I am supervised by Monique van den Dries. My research will focus on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology in the Netherlands.
Public archaeology has been developing considerably in the Netherlands for the last couple of years, but much can still be improved concerning public outreach activities. This is why I have decided to focus my research on communication methods that are favourable in our current digital age and might make archaeology more accessible for a wider public.
For my research I will be looking at several blogs from both the UK and USA; in these countries blogging seems widely accepted and used a lot as a tool in creating support for archaeology, and I have come across some very interesting blogs, of which your blog is one.
To be able to explore how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology, I would like to question the bloggers and blog readers of these blogs. This is where my request comes in. I have set up a questionnaire in which I ask the visitors of your blog several questions regarding their motives for visiting the blog and so on.
ASWT Project Team

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.