Small Fragments Paint a Big Picture in Spring Lake Data Recovery Faunal Analysis

By Christopher Jurgens, Ph.D.

The Center for Archaeological Studies (CAS) 2014 excavations at the Spring Lake Site (41HY160) recovered more than 6,000 fragments of animal bone. Detailed analysis of the bone, often termed faunal analysis, began in the summer of 2016. Faunal analysis is part of a specialty in archaeology that is known as zooarchaeology (Reitz and Wing 2008). The bone fragments were analyzed to identify the animals represented and human modification from subsistence or bone technology activities. Procedures began with sorting into groups based on size of animal, signs of burning, or obvious evidence of butchering, skinning, or technological modification (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Faunal material from the Spring Lake Site (41HY160) sorted during initial faunal analysis.

Fragments of animal bone recovered from the Spring Lake Site are small and in poor physical condition. The faunal analysis required techniques I’ve used over the past 20 years (Figures 2 and 3). Special lighting includes an overhead general light and a low sidelight that increases contrast. The sidelight reveals changes to the bone surface. Carnivore damage and root-etching modify the bone surface. Butchering damage and technological modifications made during tool or ornament manufacture and use each leave distinctive traces on the surface of bone.

Figure 2: Christopher Jurgens examining bone fragments microscopically during Spring Lake faunal analysis.

Figure 2: Christopher Jurgens examining bone fragments microscopically during Spring Lake faunal analysis.

Figure 3: Specialized lighting used during microscopic examination of Spring Lake fauna.

Figure 3: Specialized lighting used during microscopic examination of Spring Lake fauna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many small fragments were identifiable as skeletal elements from specific animals, often to genera or species used in biological classification. With standard zooarchaeological procedures, skeletal materials from reference specimens of fish, birds, and mammals were used to identify the faunal material. Some of the reference specimens were loaned from the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. Deer and bison reference specimens belonging to CAS were also used. Fish and squirrel specimens came from my own reference collection (Figures 4 – 7). Historical records of fish documented in the region by Kenneth Jurgens (1951) were also used in determining what species might be identified during the analysis, as well as other published references containing detailed anatomical drawings (Figure 8).

Figure 4: Freshwater drum fish vertebrae reference specimens from the UT-Austin Vertebrate Paleontology LaboratoryPaleontology Lab at UT-Austin

Figure 4: Freshwater drum fish vertebrae reference specimens from the UT-Austin Vertebrate Paleontology LaboratoryPaleontology Lab at UT-Austin.

Figure 5: Channel catfish vertebra specimen from Jurgens reference collection.

Figure 6: Comparison of archaeological specimen of cottontail rabbit foot bone and modern jackrabbit specimen from Jurgens reference collection.

Figure 6: Comparison of archaeological specimen of cottontail rabbit foot bone and modern jackrabbit specimen from Jurgens reference collection.

 

 

 

Figure 7: Comparison of archaeological squirrel thigh bone specimen and modern specimen from Jurgens reference collection.

Figure 7: Comparison of archaeological squirrel thigh bone specimen and modern specimen from Jurgens reference collection.

 

 

 

 

Figure 8: Anatomical drawing of rabbit rear foot from published reference used during faunal analysis.

Figure 8: Anatomical drawing of rabbit rear foot from published reference used during faunal analysis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many fragments showed signs of butchering or cooking by the site’s inhabitants. Skinning and butchering leave distinctive cutmarks. Direct heat cooking, such as grilling or roasting, leaves distinctive discoloration of bone fragments. Some fragments were completely discolored by heat from inclusion in the soil surrounding earth ovens used to bake plants. Other fragments were incinerated by heat over 850o F that removed most organic material from the bone.

Some fragments retained signs of specific modification made during manufacture and use of bone tools and ornaments. Bone tools often exhibit scrape marks made to remove the periosteum layer from the bone surface; distinctive grooves cut to allow controlled snapping of the bone into segments; grinding of edges; and wear left by contact with plant materials, hides, or other substances when used by the site’s inhabitants. Incised bone artifacts and bone beads represent ancient artistic expression and allow us to study behavior beyond subsistence (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Examples of bone ornament and beads from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project.

Figure 9: Examples of bone ornament and beads from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project.

Assignment of bone fragments to the most appropriate taxonomic group requires an understanding of bone structure and skeletal anatomy of all potential animal groups, from fish and reptiles to birds and mammals. Some of the bones are easy to identify, based on their structure and morphology (Figure 10 and Figure 11). Distinctive features allow identification of bone fragments to specific animal form and skeletal element.

Figure 10: Archaeological specimen of catfish vertebra from Spring Lake Data Recovery faunal analysis.

Figure 10: Archaeological specimen of catfish vertebra from Spring Lake Data Recovery faunal analysis.

Figure 11: Archaeological specimen of cottontail rabbit rear foot bone from Spring Lake Data Recovery faunal analysis.

Figure 11: Archaeological specimen of cottontail rabbit rear foot bone from Spring Lake Data Recovery faunal analysis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultural modification of animal bone fragments by the Spring Lake Site’s prehistoric residents was obvious (Figures 12 – 16). Figures 12 and 13 revealed signs of bone breakage to remove marrow from leg bones of deer or antelope.

 

Figure 12: Top view of bone flake from deer or antelope leg bone found during Spring Lake Data Recovery Project faunal analysis, with scrape marks to remove periosteum layer.

Figure 12: Top view of bone flake from deer or antelope leg bone found during Spring Lake Data Recovery Project faunal analysis, with scrape marks to remove periosteum layer.

Figure 13: Side view of bone flake from deer or antelope leg bone found during Spring Lake Data Recovery Project faunal analysis, with impact mark and fractures showing breakage for marrow harvesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One bone tool fragment (Figure 14) shows clear signs of grooving and snapping used to detach bone tool blanks from large mammal long bones during manufacture. The irregular edges remaining from blank detachment may indicate that the tool was broken before being completed.

Figure 14: Bone tool fragment from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project faunal analysis showing grooving used to detach tool blank from deer or antelope long bone.

Figure 14: Bone tool fragment from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project faunal analysis showing grooving used to detach tool blank from deer or antelope long bone.

The same process was used to make both formal and informal tools. Figure 15 shows an informal hide-working tool fragment that retains grooving, but also helical fracturing. Figure 16 is part of a formal tool used in processing silica-rich plants.

Figure 15: Fragment of informal bone tool from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project with grooving used to detach tool blank from deer or antelope long bone. Narrow end has use wear from hide working.

Figure 15: Fragment of informal bone tool from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project with grooving used to detach tool blank from deer or antelope long bone. Narrow end has use wear from hide working.

Figure 16: Fragment of Early Archaic bone tool from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project with manufacturing evidence and use-wear from silica-rich plants.

Figure 16: Fragment of Early Archaic bone tool from Spring Lake Data Recovery Project with manufacturing evidence and use-wear from silica-rich plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much of my recent research has focused on fauna from sites in the Lower Pecos region of West Texas (Castaneda, et al. 2016; Jurgens 2005a, 2005b, 2006, 2008, 2014a, 2014b, 2015; Jurgens and Rush 2015). During the Spring Lake Data Recovery Project faunal analysis, I’ve noticed many similarities to the Lower Pecos study results. Bone tool or ornament fragments, and evidence for their manufacture, have rarely been documented in Central Texas. Analysis of the Spring Lake faunal material is showing us that the same processes used to make the tools and ornaments in the Lower Pecos were in use in Central Texas by the Early Archaic. Sites such as Spring Lake help us open the doors onto the past to understand how widespread cultural processes, such as bone technology, were prevalent in prehistory.

REFERENCES CITED:

Castañeda, Amanda M., Christopher Jurgens, Charles W. Koenig, Stephen L. Black, J. Kevin Hanselka, and Haley Rush

2016 “Multidisciplinary Investigations of a Paleoindian Bison Butchery Event in Eagle Cave.” Paper presented at the 87th Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting. Nacogdoches, Texas.

Jurgens, Christopher J.

2005a “Zooarcheology and Bone Technology from Arenosa Shelter (41VV99), Lower Pecos Region, Texas.” (http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/1586). Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Department of Anthropology. The University of Texas at Austin.

2005b “An Overview of the Zooarchaeology and Bone Technology from Arenosa Shelter (41VV99) in the Lower Pecos Region.”  Paper presented at the 76th Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting. Austin, Texas.

2006  “The Fish Fauna from Arenosa Shelter (41VV99), Lower Pecos Cultural Region, Texas.” Paper Presented in the Symposium Honoring Oscar J. Polaco and His Contributions to Latin American Zooarchaeology, Sponsored by the Fryxell Committee, Society for American Archaeology, 71st Annual Meeting, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

2008  “The Fish Fauna from Arenosa Shelter (41VV99), Lower Pecos Cultural Region, Texas.”  In:  Joaquín Arroyo-Cabrales and Eileen Johnson, Guest Editors, Contributions to Latin American Zooarchaeology in Honour of Oscar J. Polaco, Fryxell Award Recipient for Interdisciplinary Research. Quaternary International 185:26-33.

2014a  “Preliminary Results from Zooarchaeological Analysis of Eagle Nest Canyon Sites.” Paper presented at the 85th Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting. San Marcos, Texas.

2014b “Cutting It in the Lower Pecos.”  Guest lecture to Anthropology 689-602 (Ancient Foodways and Cooking Technologies Graduate Seminar), Texas A&M University. College Station, Texas.

2015 “Lower Pecos Faunal Recovery, Sampling, and Analysis Issues.”  Guest Lecture to Anthropology 4630 (Archaeological Field School), Texas State University. Shumla, Texas.

Jurgens, Christopher J., and Haley E. Rush

2015  “Extending Arenosa Shelter’s Reach:  Zooarchaeological Research in Eagle Nest Canyon 2015.”  Poster Presented at the 86th Texas Archeological Society Annual Meeting. Houston, Texas.

Jurgens, Kenneth C.

1951  “The Distribution and Ecology of the Fishes of the San Marcos River.”  Unpublished M.A. Thesis. Department of Zoology. The University of Texas. Austin, Texas.

Reitz, Elizabeth J. and Elizabeth S. Wing

2008 Zooarchaeology (Second Edition). Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.

 

Surveying the Landscape: Surface Surveys as an Archaeological Technique

By Caitlin Gulihur

Caitlin surveying her survey area

Caitlin surveying her survey area

While what happens during and after excavations of archaeological sites are popular subjects of previous PAST posts, this post deals with a different type of archaeological work – the survey. Surveys are useful for both finding unrecorded sites and to answer research questions about large-scale issues, such as landscape use. Survey work presents its own unique rewards and challenges, some of which I became familiar with during the course of gathering data for my Master’s thesis. Continue reading

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By Amy Reid

Lab tables cluttered with artifacts, scales, digital calipers, coffee cups, Excel spreadsheets and to-do lists that seem to get longer-not shorter. The analysis phase of an archaeological project can look more like chaos than science, but in reality there is a method — or methodology rather — to the madness. This post aims to describe the various analyses we have conducted and are planning to perform on the data recovered from our 2014 excavations at the Spring Lake Site. You will also get a sneak peak at some of the results available to date.

Figures 1-3: What analysis looks like

Figures 1-3: What analysis looks like

Continue reading

Progress Report on the Shiner Collection Rehabilitation

pedernales dart points

Pedernales dart points

By Patricia Christmas

The big project this semester at CAS has been the rehabilitation of the Shiner Collection. The funding for this project is provided by a generous Preservation Trust Fund grant from the Texas Historical Commission and work is being performed by a team of CAS staff, student workers, and volunteers. Amy Reid’s Archaeological Curation class has been assigned to the Shiner Collection Rehabilitation as their semester laboratory project and their assistance has been vital. Continue reading

Joel Shiner: Bringing Spring Lake Archaeology into the Light

By Jacob Hooge

Shiner on break

Shiner on break

As Center for Archaeological Studies (CAS) works through the curation of artifacts from the Shiner collection, dozens of volunteers and student workers are experiencing first-hand the horrors of poorly kept notes and documentation of an unfinished yet exceptionally important archaeological excavation. The few publications Joel Shiner produced concerning the San Marcos Springs were not well-received within much of the archaeological community; however, his work in San Marcos placed a spotlight on the archaeological resources present. Shiner’s efforts resulted in the often cited San Marcos claim to be the longest continuously inhabited site in North America and were the catalyst for the important work which continues today. Continue reading

Artifact Spotlight: Mary Garden Powder Compact Lid

By Patricia Christmas

mary garden compact lid, obverse and reverse

Mary Garden Compact lid, obverse and reverse

The lid to a Mary Garden Powder Compact was recovered by CAS archaeologists in 2012, during construction monitoring near the River House on the Texas State University campus. The embossed design, now barely visible, features a profile bust of the Scottish-American opera soprano Mary Garden and the words “Mary Garden, Rigaud Paris, Parfumeur.” It was produced by the Scoville Manufacturing Company in 1916, and remained in use until 1926 (Hetherington 2012b). The compact was brass with a removable mirrored lid. The mirror on this artifact is broken and most of the silver has degraded, although some of the tin dichloride coating remains. Based upon the manufacturing dates, the compact lid was likely lost or discarded during a period when the site was a tourist park, a place where travelers visiting one of the two amusement parks in San Marcos – Aquarena Springs Amusement Park and Wonder World Park – would have been able to picnic during their stay. Continue reading

Texas State Field School in St. Kitts — A Wrap-Up Post

by Todd Ahlman

Ceramic Artifacts from St. Kitts

Ceramic Artifacts from St. Kitts

If you have been following CAS’s PAST Posts, CAS’s social media, and the Texas State in St. Kitts Archaeological Project, you probably saw the series of blog entries in June written by the archaeological field school students participating in the project on St. Kitts.

We completed the field work at the end of June and washed, analyzed, and packed for curation the bulk of the artifacts we recovered before we left St. Kitts. The project was a great success. The students learned necessary archaeological skills, and we were able to recover a tremendous amount of information about the history of St. Kitts. This final blog entry on the project is meant to wrap up the project and give some glimpses into the things we found during our stay on the island. Continue reading

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Kathleen and Taylor excavating.

Kathleen and Taylor excavating.

When I initially chose anthropology as my major, archaeology wasn’t anywhere on my radar. Forensic anthropology was what I wanted to do, and what I still want to do; however I have a whole new appreciation for archaeologists and all that they do. I heard about this field school when Dr. Ahlman came to speak to my Intro to Archaeology class and his passion for his work piqued my interest. I had been looking for a way to study abroad and still gain the experience that many people in our field rarely just happen upon and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. I signed up immediately and found myself in June on a plane to St. Kitts. Stepping out of the plane with the 4 strangers who were my classmates, I had no idea what would be in store for us.  Continue reading

A Brief Window into Slave Economy: Field School Experience #4

By Ashley Riddle

Ashley, Kathleen, and Rachel laying in an excavation unit.

Ashley, Kathleen, and Rachel laying in an excavation unit.

The reasons that initially drew me in to this field school are the same reasons that I chose to pursue an anthropology degree. As an American, growing up in this generation, sometimes I feel that I’ve lost touch with my own heritage and cultural traditions. Anthropology and particularly archaeology gives people the opportunity to learn about cultural traditions, ritual practices, and beliefs by analyzing the things that are left behind. It’s an incredibly important field of work that is much more physically demanding than I expected, but in the end is much more rewarding than anything I could ever imagine. Continue reading

Adventures with Sea Urchins: St. Kitts Field School Experience #3

Haley and Ashley with their first excavation unit.

Haley and Ashley with their first excavation unit.

By Haley Lyckman

Well, here we all are in the last part of the 3rd week and I can tell you my experiences here in St. Kitts are not what I expected them to be at all. I’ve learned a few new archeological and life lessons: always put on sun screen, bring two bottles of water, and by all means don’t step on a sea urchin! Continue reading