Smells like molasses, tastes like soap...
Shumla Archaeological Center

November, 2017

October 2017
Centerfold of the November/December edition of Archaeology Magazine
 
A Note from the Director
 
Hello Shumla friends! I hope you're enjoying your fall season so far. We are certainly welcoming the cooler temperatures in Comstock. As the team continues to work doggedly in the field, the trend away from 90+ degree days is so very nice.
 
Making the News!
Shumla has been enjoying some wonderful press recently. You may have seen us on the front page of the San Antonio Express-News, in the Labor Day travel section of the Austin American-Statesmen, in the centerfold of the November/December edition of the iconic Archaeology Magazine or as a contributor to the National Geographic Explorers Voices Blog. It is so wonderful that the rock art of the Lower Pecos and the work of the Alexandria Projectis piquing the interest of our community and our discipline. 
 
You don't ever have to worry about missing an article or program about Shumla. Every time we are highlighted in the press we post it to our "Shumla in the News" page on our website. It's your one-stop for the latest media coverage. 
 
Driving Hope for the Future
We hope that this increased awareness of Shumla's mission and work in the media will motivate new people to support us. Our Alexandria Project Pledge Drive is going very well! Thus far we have received pledges totaling $77,165 for 2017. That means that Shumla can count on that same amount of support in 2018, 2019 and 2020. You can't imagine the difference that knowledge makes as we plan for the future years of this important project. 
 
Help us reach our goal of $100,000 in pledges. Please, join our team and pledge to support Shumla. We're making history, saving history!
 
All the very best,
 
Earth Oven Redux
 
This ingenious plant-baking method was used by the ancient people of the Lower Pecos to turn toxic plants into dinner for thousands of years. Now the Shumla Scholars take their turn. 
 

The Shumla Scholars got a chance this month to experience first-hand one of the many ways ancient Lower Pecos foragers adapted to their environment. Plants like sotol and lechuguilla abound on this landscape, but they are toxic if eaten raw. Earth ovens were used to cook these plants and convert them into a reliable food source. 
 
The remnants of earth ovens are one of the most common archaeological features in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. You know you've found one when you stumble (literally) upon lots of "fire-cracked rock." All the rocks you see in the image below were once heated to high temperature in an earthen pit to cook plants. Once the rock cracked and was too small to hold heat, it was thrown out and replaced.  
 
But how can we explain to the casual observer (or in this case, high school student) that these boring piles of fire-cracked rock are actually really exciting? 
Burn one!
 
 
Rather than just lecturing about earth ovens, we decided to lead the Shumla Scholars in a little "experimental archaeology." With the help of school administrators we selected an oven location on school property. (See Searching for the Trifecta blog post for more information on selecting a prime spot to build an earth oven.)
 

After the students had dug the pit, they had to gather fire wood, plants, and rocks.
 

Next, they filled the oven pit with wood and placed the rocks as high up on the wood pile as possible.
 
Then, they were ready to fire the oven!
 
 
 
As the wood burns down, the rocks heat up. Once the wood is burned away and the hot rocks remain, the Scholars placed a layer of prickly pear pads on the bottom, then the food plants (sotol and lechuguilla), and finally another layer of prickly pear pads. The prickly pear acts like a wet paper towel you wrap around your frozen burrito in the microwave, it adds steam. The oven is finally covered with a thick layer of dirt to hold all that heat and steam in and cook the sotol and lechuguilla.
 
It takes two entire days to make sotol and lechuguilla edible. (That's a long time to wait for a meal. Hope they had appetizers.)

After two days had passed, the Scholars returned to open the pit and taste the results. When they opened the pit, the Scholars smelled a strong odor of molasses - that's the sugars that have cooked out of the plants. However, the actual flavor is something closer to a fruit roll up that's fallen on the ground with a hint of soap. 
 
To be fair, we don't know the best time to harvest the plants or the true tricks to making them tasty. Earth oven cooked sotol hearts were probably a delicacy to people who really knew what they were doing.  
 
Firing an earth oven was a great way for the Shumla Scholars to learn first-hand the effort that went into survival in the archaic Lower Pecos and to understand why fire-cracked rock is literally strewn all across this vast landscape. 
 
For more information about earth ovens, check out the Ancient Southwest Texas Project blog posts Between a Rock and a Heart Place (includes video) and Fire on the Mountain (archaeological investigations of earth oven features in Nevada).
 
The Texas Archeological Society Meeting

Shumla Project Archaeologist, Charles Koenig, presents at TAS.
Every October, archaeologists from across Texas come together for the Texas Archeological Society (TAS) Annual Meeting. This year the meeting was held in Grapevine and the Shumla Research Team journeyed across Texas to present our ongoing research to our colleagues.
 
The weekend started off for Shumla on Friday, when Dr. Carolyn Boyd and Kim Cox gave a presentation about The White Shaman Mural to the TAS Book Festival. Attendees heard from Carolyn and Kim how the book came to be written and learned what some of their favorite discoveries were along the way.
 
On Saturday, Vicky Roberts, Charles Koenig, Amanda Castañeda, and Carolyn gave presentations in a joint Shumla, Ancient Southwest Texas Project, and Center for Big Bend Studies symposium titled: "Multidisciplinary Investigations of the 10,000+ year Hunter-Gatherer Record in the Mountains and Canyonlands of Big Bend and Lower Pecos Texas." A total of 16 presentations covering a variety of topics were given, including remote sensing, geoarchaeology, methodology, typology, chronology, rock art, zooarchaeology, and site restoration. 
 
Shumla Archaeologist, Vicky Roberts, smiles for the camera at the beginning of her presentation.
Shumla presentations included:
  • Low Impact, High Resolution: Unraveling and Learning from 10,000 years of Hunter-Gatherer Use of Eagle Cave 
    • Charles Koenig detailed the 2015-2017 Ancient Southwest Texas Project excavations in Eagle Cave.
  • Portable X-ray Fluorescence of Lower Pecos Painted Pebbles: New Insights Regarding Chaîne Opératoire, Context, and Chronology
    • Amanda Castaneda described the ongoing elemental analysis of pigments used for painting painted pebbles recovered during recent excavations in Eagle Nest Canyon.
  • Research Questions Driving Rock Art Recording Methodology in the Alexandria Project 
    • Vicky explored the research questions Shumla is pursuing as part of the Alexandria Project.
  • Burning Water: Time and Creation in the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos 
    • Carolyn explained one of the many incredible iconographic motifs present within the White Shaman mural.
Karen Steelman and Jerod Roberts presented posters:
  • Show Me the Data! A Feasibility Analysis of Rock Art Recorded for the Alexandria Project
    • Jerod showcased the different types of high-resolution photographic data Shumla is collecting with the Alexandria Project.
  • Radiocarbon Dating Rock Paintings: New Plasma Oxidation Laboratory at Shumla
    • Karen highlighted the new plasma oxidation lab that Shumla uses to directly date pictographs.
The Shumla Research Team enjoyed sharing our research and learning from our colleagues in a fun environment! It's the archaeological social event of the year! Stay tuned for more detailed summaries of each Shumla presentation and poster in our new and upcoming blog.

Shumla Research Director, Dr. Karen Steelman, and Shumla Archaeologist, Jerod Roberts, share their posters with their colleagues.
 
Take the Time to Pledge 
 
The Alexandria Project Pledge Drive is Shumla's plan to support and complete this important project. 
 
It's as easy as clicking the link below!
Select an amount you would be willing to contribute this year. Perhaps $50, $100, $500, $1000? Then select Alexandria Project Pledge Gift to let us know that we can count on you to give that amount each year until the Alexandria Project is complete in 2020. 
 
  
 
Spotlight on Kay Watt

Shumla's Newest Board Member

Kay grew up in Central and West Texas, living the past 38 years in San Antonio with her husband Tim. She got her BA in Psychology from Texas Tech University and earned a degree in pastoral counseling from Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. In 2007, she and a partner opened the Eating Disorder Center at San Antonio (EDCASA), a Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Program for the treatment of anorexia, bulimina, and binge eating disorder. In 2014, EDCASA was purchased by the Eating Recovery Center. Kay finished her tenure with them in 2016 and returned to private practice part time. This has freed time for her to volunteer for Board service.
 
Kay and Tim joined Jessica Lee in Comstock for a visit to the rock art of the Lower Pecos in 2015. She was blown away by the sophistication of the art and of the cosmology it depicted. After seeing it in person she felt deeply convinced that it had to be saved for future study. This motivated her to select Shumla for Board service. We could not be happier or more grateful! Kay is already making a big difference in our organization by driving interest and donorship in San Antonio. 
Thank you, Kay, for lending Shumla your time, your expertise and your wonderful spirit!
 
Tim and Kay Watt (seated) with friends at Shumla's campus west of Comstock.
 
Are you keeping up with Shumla on Facebook?
 
Find us at www.facebook.com/shumla
 

Shumla always brings the party to the Del Rio Archaeology Fair and this year was no different. Check out our Facebook post on this hysterical, fun day. While you're there you may see lots more posts that you have missed!
Make Us Smile!
 
Wanna do some good with every Amazon purchase you make? Designate Shumla as your charity on Amazon Smile. We'll receive .5% of every purchase you make at no additional cost to you. 
 
Want to send Shumla a present? Check out our Amazon Wish List!

Thank you!
Visit Del Rio!

Come for the rock art, stay for the atmosphere! The rock art of the Lower Pecos could not be situated in a more beautiful setting. The desert is vast here, with huge skies and rolling hills that meet the crystal blue waters of the Amistad Reservoir. After you've visited the rock art, you can bird watch, water ski, bass fish, and then go camping for the night. Or you might like to visit the quaint shops of Del Rio's old town and drink wine at the Val Verde winery. In Del Rio there are lots of comfy places to stay and yummy places to eat. And you'll always find a warm welcome. Come and see!
 
 
Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center 
P.O. Box 627, Comstock, TX 78837 USA
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Copyright © 2017 by Shumla. All Rights Reserved.
Questions and comments can be sent to: jlee@shumla.org