Get dirty with the Texas Archeological Society

Volunteers working with the Texas Archaeological Society

Members working with the Texas Archeological Society

I am pleased to introduce Wendy Lockwood, president of the Texas Archeological Society

Wendy Lockwood, President of the Texas Archaeological Society

Wendy Lockwood, President of the Texas Archaeological Society

(www.txarch.org) today. Wendy is a former science teacher who fell in love with archeology and rock art more than 20 years ago, and has been active in these fields ever since.  TAS will host it’s annual Field School June 14-21, 2014, near Columbus, Texas, on a site with both historic and prehistoric features.

Hi Wendy. Tell us about the Texas Archeological Society (TAS). What is it for? What does it do? The purpose of TAS is to promote an awareness of Texas archeology. The preservation of our archeological resources is our first priority. Professional archeologists AND avocationals work close together to see that this goal is met.

Can anyone join? Membership is open to anyone who is interested in archeology. We have memberships for individuals, families, students, and other societies and organizations. Membership forms are available online at www.txarch.org. The website offers a complete overview of who we are, what we do, and ways to become involved.

 Does TAS actually go on digs?  TAS host a field school ever summer early in June. Field School is held at TAS 2 copydifferent places throughout the state. This year it will near on a ranch near Columbus, June 14-21. Participants must be members of TAS. (Individual memberships = $60.00 annually, or family for $70.00). For those who work, there is the option of signing up for 3 days. The field school officially starts on Saturday morning and ends Friday night with a special program. For those who wish, breakfast and dinner meals are offered at a reasonable price. We camp in a central location, have programs each night, and work each day until around 1:00 in the afternoon. It is a great opportunity to meet new people, renew old acquaintances, laugh, and have loads of fun. Information about Field School can viewed at our website. You will also a short report and a few pictures from past field schools.

We offer teachers that are new to the field school a three-day program that can count toward academic growth hours. We also have a children’s program where we teach them the basics of archeology. They learn how to excavate (dig) properly, how to plot in artifacts, and take various measurements when needed. Along with these, they are treated to several small activities during the week. Field School offers a great family vacation to those who might be interested. Field School registration starts at $90.00 for an adult for three days, or $35.00 for three days for a child (ages 7-17).

Do you get to keep what you find? No, we do not keep any artifacts that are found. These belong to the landowner whose property we are privileged to be working on. If it is state-owned land, the artifacts go to the state. Artifacts are collected in the field and then sent to the Lab for processing. In the lab, artifacts are sorted, washed, and bagged for later study by the PI, the archeologist who is the Principle Investigator. There are terms and conditions that TAS must abide by when it comes to artifacts. These requirements are set down by state and Federal antiquities laws or regulations.

 Have you ever had any close encounters with varmints of any kind while on a dig? Varmints are something we have to always be on the lookout for. Depending on where you are assigned to work, there may be problems with insects, snakes, feral hogs, livestock, and other critters. After all, we do live in Texas. Fortunately, we have never had a bad experience with varmints. Personally, I have had some dealings with javelinas, a rattlesnake or two, a cottonmouth, a coyote, and fire ants. I had an encounter with a young mountain lion one time in Utah. We scared each other, both ran in opposite directions, so things were good.

What about weather?  If you have lived in Texas long enough, you know not to be surprised at what

Students get real experience at TAS field school

Students get real experience at TAS field school

happens with the weather. There is kind of a saying in TAS: “Where TAS goes, rain follows.” We have brought rain with us to so many places we have gone for Field School, that we laugh about charging folks a fee just to come work in their area. How does it happen? We have no idea, it just does. We have braved hail storms, 70 mph winds, rain so hard the camp flooded and a major cold front in June. (We bought out all the sweat shirts and blankets in the local Walmart and Penneys). But, let me say, we have never been deterred by the weather. When it clears up and dries out enough, we go back to work. Sometimes it’s an opportunity for a little extra sleep, a lot more fellowship, or a new adventure or site in the area.

Do you have a particular specialty, or something you really like to do in archeology? I really enjoy doing just about anything that surrounds archeology. I enjoy working in prehistoric sites more that historic. This past year at field school, I worked in the floatation lab. That was fun but really dirty. BUT, I kept really cool in the heat that day. I have worked with the kids in their area, done survey, and worked in the lab. I would encourage people to try and experience all facets of field work. You will find your niche.

As for my passion, I would have to say Rock Art. Rock art is the paintings and incisings left behind by ancient people. We like to call it a “graphic artifact.” You find rock art primarily on canyon walls, boulders, and in shelters. In a few places it can be found in dry river beds. Texas has some of the premier rock art found in the world. You may ask how I know. I have been told by individuals who have traveled the world looking at rock art that our rock art sites cannot be equaled.

So why do you do it? What motivates you? Rock art is my niche! I really have no words to fully describe the feeling I have when I am working at a rock art site. Regardless of how many times I may visit a site, it is always new. I look at that wall and ponder who the person was that placed it there. Does it tell a story? Is it a ritual or ceremony? Was the artist a man or a woman? Did a small child leave the hand print? These are questions we can only guess about. There are Native Americans in the southwest who still put art on walls and boulders today. Sometimes it depicts a rite of passage or a dream quest. But, for most of the art, it is so old we can only guess. Most rock art sites are up canyons in shelters. There is peace to be found. You hear the birds in the canyon; the wind blows through; the rocks crack; you become one with nature and your surroundings. Regardless of how far you have to hike and how high you have to climb up, when you get there and turn around and survey where you have come from, a peaceful sigh slips from your lips and a huge smile lights up your face. You have come HOME!

Thanks, Wendy. Makes me want to get out there in the dirt!  Have a great time in Columbus.

 

Peyote: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part III

Huichol indian yarn painting of peyote cactus

Huichol indian yarn painting of peyote cactus

Peyote was a powerful plant helper for ancient people of the Lower Pecos. Like the Huichol indians of Mexico today, ancient people probably considered peyote a sacred plant. Peyote contains the drug mescaline, which brings colorful hallucinations to those who consume it, along with nausea and other uncomfortable side effects.

Peyote has been used for at least 4000 years in the Lower Pecos and other areas for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. Mashed and dried peyote, radiocarbon dated to  4045-3960 B.C., has been found in certain rock shelters near the Rio Grande. Strings of peyote buttons have also been discovered in caves of northern Mexico.

Dried peyote buttons

Dried peyote buttons

Peyote use spread to Native American groups in the Great Plains and Southwest such as the Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, Mescalero Apache, and Pima by the 1880s. Today, only members of the Native American Church may legally consume peyote in the U.S.

Taken in small doses, peyote is a mild stimulant and reduces appetite. Tarahumara indians in Mexico often chew peyote during their foot races to strengthen them as they run 50 miles or more. The cactus also contains substances that possess antiseptic and antibiotic properties against many types of bacteria.  Mashed cactus can be applied to burns or wounds to prevent infection. The Kiowa also used peyote to treat illnesses such as flu and scarlet fever.

This shy little cactus was declared illegal in 1970 by the United States’ Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.  The cactus continues to grows wild in south Texas and northern Mexico , but is under stress from several causes, according to Dr. Martin Terry of Sul Ross State University.Peyote_Cactus

Previous posts about mountain laurel and moon flower round out this short series on plant helpers of the Lower Pecos.

 

Rock Art Foundation

Rock Art Foundation tour to White Shaman Shelter on the Pecos River

Rock Art Foundation tour to White Shaman Shelter on the Pecos River

My guest today is Greg Williams, Executive Director of the Rock Art Foundation, which promotes conservation and education about the rock art of the Lower Pecos.  The Rock Art Foundation owns the White Shaman Preserve and offers tours there every Saturday.  To learn more, please see their website at www.rockart.org.

Greg Williams, Ex. Director, Rock Art Foundation

Greg Williams, Ex. Director, Rock Art Foundation

Hi Greg, thank you for being with us today. How long have you been with the Rock Art Foundation (RAF)?

It’s been about 20 years.  I first met Jim Zintgraff in 1993 – I had hired him to do a photo shoot in my business – so it’s been almost 20 years since I first became involved with the RAF.

Jim Zintgraff was a photographer, right?

Yes, he was a commercial photographer in San Antonio.  But in the early 1950s he started photographing rock art west of Del Rio, which was mostly unknown by the general public at the time because it was all on private land.  When the state of Texas decided to build Amistad Dam on the Rio Grande around 1963, Jim was commissioned to document many of the ancient pictographs that would be inundated with the filling of the lake. His images preserve this great legacy from the past.  Later Jim organized the Rock Art Foundation to continue this work.

What do you want the general public to understand about the ancient Image 5paintings in the Lower Pecos?

How important the art was to the people that left their stories for us to consider and what they could mean to us. The people who painted them had to be first concerned with survival in a harsh land but they took time from that to paint their mythology which was as important to them as their survival.

What is the biggest thrill you had with RAF?

Every trip I make to West Texas is a thrill. The country, the archaeology, the modern military and settler history, the tour participants – all are thrilling. Each time. It would be impossible to single out only one. I am as excited every time I go – just like the first trip.

Have you had any close encounters with snakes or other creatures of the wild?

Not many – we travel in a group and make a lot of noise. Most critters are long gone before we get there. It’s very hard to sneak up on a desert creature – most are nocturnal. In 30+ years of being in West Texas I’ve probably seen less that 5 rattlesnakes but we did see a mountain lion a few years ago at Meyers Springs. She was most likely tending to a hurt cub or we would have never seen her.

RAF Bunkhouse at White Shaman Preserve

RAF Bunkhouse at White Shaman Preserve

Besides tours of rock art sites in the Lower Pecos, what else does RAF do?

We are currently providing scholarships to the Shumla School in Comstock (associated with Texas State University) and outstanding seniors at the Comstock High School. We work with Landowners assisting in conservation efforts – in a recent example we contracted with Texas Tech University to provide a complete assessment of the prehistoric and historic cultural resources on a West Texas ranch for a new Landowner. The RAF keeps funds in reserve to protect endangered property through acquisition if needed.

We are also involved with restoration efforts on private ranches and are the official “Friends Group” for Seminole Canyon State Park helping them by conducting their weekend tours. The RAF operates a tour guide program with 15 experienced/trained Guides and we work with Landowners to develop access for this program (there is no BLM land in Texas – it’s all private property).

We also assist in research funding helping to defray the cost of field research and assist with publication funding. We have published our own book and CD ROM on Lower Pecos archaeology as well as the development and continued support of our website and have just established an electronic newsletter.

We also stage an annual fundraiser campout, the Rock Art Rendezvous, each October at Image 6the White Shaman Preserve and offer as many tours as possible that weekend. All these efforts are focused toward the preservation through education of the unique world class archaeology in West Texas. Our funding is all provided through private donations. We operate very efficiently – no one in our organization receives a salary.

Any advice for people new to exploring Lower Pecos rock art?

Yes – go to West Texas and listen to the country. Look at what appears around you and sit quietly. Be there at a sunrise, a sunset, sit beside the campfire – it will change you. If you’ve never been there it will introduce you to a part of yourself you didn’t know.

Thanks for being with us today, Greg.

Moon Flower: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part II

IMG_1401

Moon flower, one of  the triumvirate of powerful helping plants in the ancient Lower Pecos, is known by many names: Jimson weed, loco weed, datura, stink weed, thorne apple and devil’s weed, to mention the most common.  These plants are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which claims over 2,500 species such as potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes. Datura stramonium, or moon flower, is a fragrant night-blooming plant that grows wild all over the world, including the Lower Pecos, and can cause delirium, anxiety, hallucinations, stupor, coma and death.

The plants contain the tropane alkaloids– atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. These alkaloids have many uses in modern medicine, but also serious side effects. Atropine interferes with activity in the brain stem, ranging from motor impairment to rapid heart beat, to overheating of the body. Internal bleeding and stroke can occur. Scopolamine and hyoscyamine are also sometime known as  “zombie drugs” because of the delirium and unpleasant hallucinations they can cause.

Spiny seed pods

Spiny seed pods

The seeds and leaves are the most potent, but all parts of the plant are toxic.  Uncomfortable effects generally begin 20-30 minutes after ingestion. Effects can  last from eight hours to three days.

Many researchers agree that ancient people of the Lower Pecos used moon flower, or datura, as a plant helper to converse with the ancestors and gods.  Their shaman were undoubtedly familiar with the plant and learned to dose themselves and others carefully to prevent dire reactions.  Some images in rock art have been interpreted as datura seed pods.

Spiny dots could be datura pods

Spiny dots could be datura pods

The Hopi used this plant for divination purposes, and Carlos Castaneda wrote about it in his famous book from 1968 The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. In the European Middle Ages, the  deadly nightshade known as belladonna was often used in magical brews.

A large moon flower plant grew at the base of our back door steps when I was a child. I was fascinated by the aromatic flowers that bloomed as the summer twilight deepened ,  and I wanted to pluck them for my hair.  But my mother always cautioned me strongly not to even touch the plant, and especially never to eat it. (It was not unknown for us kids to eat a little grass with our mud pies, but then, those were simpler days, when kids made up their own games outdoors.)

There must have been a note of truth and urgency in my mother’s voice when she cautioned me, for I obeyed her on this. And I was not known for being obedient.

Once my grandfather and I were riding horseback through a field when we came upon a moon flower plant.  I still remember the sharp distaste my grandfather conveyed as he said, “Don’t let the horse get into that!  That’s loco weed.  Now I have to get out here and get rid of it.”

I asked why he didn’t want the horse to nibble it, and he said, “because it will make him loco, crazy.  Don’t let him get into it, and don’t you touch it!”  And we quickly turned the other way.P1040172

The Center for Disease Control reports a number of datura or moon flower intoxications over the past few years which resulted in trips to  emergency rooms and admission to intensive care units. In one case, a family accidentally ate datura leaves in a stew, thinking it was an edible wild herb. Six members of the family were taken to the hospital, two of them unconscious.

Moon flower is not regulated in any way in the United States, even though it can cause severe reactions. It carries no warning signs in gardens or in the wild. Archaic people knew the power of this plant, after generations of dangerous trial and error.  Modern people should be aware that even one seed is poisonous and can cause severe discomfort.

The ancient people of the Lower Pecos used all parts of their environemnt, including toxic hallucinogenic plants. A  post in January discussed mountain laurel in Part 1 of this series, and an article on peyote is coming in March.  Nature is beautiful and complicated, as we learn over and over again. Four thousand years ago in the canyon lands near the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, the people knew this well.

Mescal Beans: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part I

mt. laurel flowers

These lovely flowers of the Mountain Laurels so familiar in many parts of Texas belie their past ritual usage for  archaic people of the Lower Pecos and many other historic Native American groups. These flowers produce the potent “mescal bean,” which causes nausea, convulsions and even death when ingested. Mountain Laurels are one of three powerful plants abundant in the Lower Pecos that were used ceremonially by ancient peoples to gain visions, talk to ancestors, cure sickness, or fill other important needs.  Articles about datura and peyote,  two other potent plant helpers of the Lower Pecos are planned in the coming months.

Sophora secundiflora grows wild in the dry limestone country of south Texas, and it is often used as an ornamental shrub in urban and suburban settings. The fragrant flowers are a favorite of bees. However the pretty red beans they produce are highly toxic.

P1040493

 When eaten, even as little as half a bean can cause  nausea and vomiting, dilation of the pupils, tachycardia [excessive rapidity and irregularity of the heart-beat] followed by dizziness, mental confusion, muscular incoordination and weakness, and convulsions; in addition respiratory paralysis may occur leading to death by paralysis, according to  Martindales Extra Pharmacopoeia p 1746.

Parents and teachers should warn children of the dangers of these tempting beans, which often fall from their pods onto sidewalks and backyards.  If a young child ate even one bean, it could be fatal. Seeds contain the highly toxic narcotic alkaloid sophorine, or cystisine; don’t be fooled–they do not contain mescaline and have no relation whatsoever to the alcoholic drink called mescal.  If you suspect someone has ingested mescal beans or Mountain Laurel, take that person to the hospital emergency room immediately.

Archeologists theorize that ancient people in the Lower Pecos used this drug in ceremonies to cleanse the bodies and souls of the participants (though severe vomiting) before undertaking other trials such as vision quests. Ancient mescal beans  have been found in a number of dry rock shelters that were occupied by people in that area 4000 or more years ago, and the plants are common in the area today. The beans were included in charms and amulets, made into necklaces or other adornments, or used as parts of other shamanistic regalia.P1040501

      In a 1957  issue of American Anthropologist, James Howard described mescal bean cults among the Apache, Comanche, Delaware, Iowa, Kansa, Omaha, Oto, Osage, Pawnee, Ponca, Tonkawa, and Wichita tribes. The bean was regarded as a powerful fetish and used in ceremonies similar to those for peyote. One Apache man said “Go ahead, eat that bean. You can do miracles, jump right up and out the top of the tipi.”  You probably will jump up if you try this–but you will run to the toilet instead of through the smoke hole of the tipi.

Alanson Skinner described the effects of the mescal bean on participants in 1926.  He said that “everything looks red to the drinker for a while, then he vomits, and evacuates the bowels.”   The toxic effect also causes a feeling of stupor, which some have confused with hallucination.  The majority of literature on mescal beans, however, does not indicate much in the way of hallucinations. Many of us have suffered a hangover at some time in our lives.  It is not the same thing as “tripping” back in the 1960s.

Among the Wichita, medicine men used to administer mescal beans to spiritual novices, causing them to throw up and become unconscious.  The sharp jaw of a gar fish was then raked across the novice’s naked body to test his ability to withstand pain. This ceremony also served to ritually remove evil influences and promote good health, long life and general prosperity (Dorsey, 1904).

Native plants were used in many ways by ancient peoples, but this is one plant better admired from afar.

Interview with Scott Walters

WTY Book Cover Photo

My guest today is Scott Walters, author of the young adult novel Woman Too Young of Panther Cave, which is set in the Lower Pecos and available at www.archaicindians.us.  More information for teachers and students is available at his companion website  www.archaicindians.net.

Hi Scott.  Tell us a little about Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.

 I wanted the novel to appeal to both boys and girls.  Consequently, the story is told through the eyes of a boy while a girl figures prominently in the decisions he makes.  Had he not met her, his life would have been radically different.

The story begins when Lizard Boy, who is tired of being treated like a child, sets out to prove to his father that he is ready to enter manhood.  At the same time, Woman Too Young, a girl from a rock shelter believed by Lizard Boy’s people to be an evil place, sets out to save her people from starvation.  When their paths collide, Lizard Boy is thrust into a world of chaos and danger.  In this world, he must become a man or die.

In my attempt to make the characters relevant to modern readers, I utilized many elements of human emotion and experience.  Readers of Woman Too Young of Panther Cave will find adventure, mystery, fear, bravery, humor, uncertainty, folly, the sacred, evil, and, of course, love.

The setting is about 3,500 years ago in the Lower Pecos where three surviving paintings provide key components in the plot.

Who is the intended audience?

My initial audience was the class of fifth graders I was teaching at the time I wrote Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  I wanted to create a compelling story that would engage reluctant readers while including enough depth to challenge the more advanced students.  While writing the novel, however, I decided to set my sights a little higher by crafting a story that would appeal to as many age groups as possible.  Much to my surprise, I have received more comments and notes of appreciation from adults than students.

Why did you decide to write for this age group?

During a time in my life when I had taught at the university level and was about to wrap up my doctoral studies, I developed a passion for teaching children.  Learning to make worthwhile content relevant to young minds turned out to be one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges of my life.  I quickly learned that kids responded with great enthusiasm to truly good stories (not the politically correct stuff in basal readers).  When lessons were accentuated with stories, comprehension and retention went way up.  Over the years, I discovered numerous books that excited kids while teaching them valuable lessons.  While I had written for adults all of my publishing career,  I discovered that stimulating the minds of children intrigued me more.

The writings of Mark Twain served as a model for me and, in turn, had considerable impact on my writing and teaching.  In fact, I used The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to foster a love for reading and to improve comprehension.

Scott and Cassie Walters

Scott and Cassie Walters

What inspired you to write about the people who lived 3,000 to 4,000 years ago in the Lower Pecos?

Thank you for asking, because I love to tell this story.  My wife Cassie has been a catalyst for so many of the pivotal points in my life, including this novel.  In her fourth grade history classes, she used Texas Studies Weekly to make the subject more interesting to her students.  In one of the editions, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos and their paintings were discussed.  One of the articles noted that some of their paintings could still be seen at Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site.  Cassie knew of my interest in Native American culture and history and suggested that we travel to Comstock to take the tour.  Over the years, we had passed by there several times and I never thought of it as anything more than a place to camp in the desert.  How wrong I was!

During our tour of the Fate Bell Shelter I was hooked by what I saw and what I heard from Billie Foster, our tour guide.  As soon as I returned home, I started writing.  In less than a year, the novel had undergone eight rewrites and was completed.

There is a real irony in this story, however.  American Legacy Publishing, the company that publishes Texas Studies Weekly, contacted me because of the novel.  They wanted to update their curriculum and asked that I write their fourth grade lessons.  The publication responsible for introducing Cassie and me to the rock art in the Lower Pecos became my next major writing assignment.

What do you want your readers to learn or feel after reading your book?

Above all, I want them to think that reading my novel was time well spent.  I also hope that my book will help the paintings and archeological discoveries in the Lower Pecos come to life for them.  I think it is vital to remember that the images and artifacts were created by real people who experienced life in ways very familiar to us.

Personally, I think we miss something when our discussion of an ancient people is purely academic.  It’s like reading the label of ingredients on a food product but never bothering to taste it.  In short, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos were much more than the sum total of what they left behind.  While it is impossible to know any of their individual stories, we can easily imagine what life must have been like in their world.  Doing so establishes a commonality that enriches our appreciation for these ancient people and their art.

 How did you go about researching your book?

In addition to reading everything about the Lower Pecos I could find, I spent many hours visiting rock shelters and literally walking the land that serves as the setting for the story.  One moment of tremendous satisfaction came shortly after the book was published.  An archeologist who had worked in the Lower Pecos wrote to tell me that he knew the places I described in many of the scenes and complimented me for my accuracy.  I was humbled, though, when he thanked me for writing a book that appealed to one in his profession.  For that, I have Mark Twain to thank, because his style of writing often appealed to a wide range of ages.

Tell us a little about the workshops you conduct on indigenous archaic life?

Oddly enough, it has been the science community in education that has shown the most interest in my book.  One would naturally expect the social studies teachers to be first in line.  I was initially asked by an innovative consultant at a regional service center if I could introduce teachers to the science employed by ancient people in their quest for survival.  As I prepared for the workshop, I decided to include a discussion of  the science employed by archeologists to learn more about how early people lived.  Consequently, my workshops consist of these two approaches.

Since my first workshop nearly a decade ago, I have made presentations at service centers, school districts, and state-wide conventions.  In the all-day events, we do a lot of activities that teachers can take back to their classrooms.  Some of my workshops include a trip to the Lower Pecos to tour several rock shelters.

What other books have you written?  What is your next project?

My first break in publishing came years ago when I was hired as a television and movie critic for a national journal.  This, however, is where I must admit to a flaw in writing.  When I grew weary of spending hours in movie theaters and on the sofa in front of the television, I began writing novels.  When one was finished, I threw it in the closet and started the next one.  Once again, Cassie saved me from myself by encouraging me to seek a publisher for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  To date, it is the only one that has been published.  I received an offer to publish Beyond the Shadow, a time travel novel for young adult readers, but the contract was not a good one, so I turned it down.  My other novels are about the demise of public education in our country.  As for my next project, I am deep into a sequel for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  I am also on the verge of seeing if I can find a better contract for Beyond the Shadow.

Thanks for being my guest today, Scott. See you in the desert!

Sotol Fire Drill

Sotol Fire Drill

Survivalists! Ready to start a fire?  This short slideshow explains how to make a make a successful fire using a fire drill made from a sotol stalk.  First, select a dry sotol stalk.  Sotol grows all over central and west Texas from about Waco to Mexico.  Cut two sections, each about two feet long, from below the flowering head of the stalk.  Whittle a little off two opposite sides of the larger piece to use as a hearth stick. Make the hearth stick flat on two sides.  Then smooth the remaining piece perfectly round, and gently round the small end.  Make a notch in the hearth stick as a guide for the first drill hole.

Place dry grass under the hearth stick to start the spark. Hold the hearth stick steady by placing a booted foot on it. Set the spindle stick in the notch on the hearth stick. Twist the spindle between your palms under a wisp of smoke appears.  With a gentle, steady breath, blow on the base of the spindle a little bit. Twist the spindle faster and faster between your palms as necessary.  Blow gently on the dry grass and smoke as necessary.  When you achieve ignition, carefully remove the hearth stick and spindle, and gently fold the dry grass over in your palms as you pick it up.  Carry it to the kindling and wood you have already stacked for your fire and place the spark gently amongst the kindling.  Blow gently again as necessary to ignite the kindling.

The process is demonstrated here by Texas State University students from San Marcos, Texas, at a recent archeological research site in the Lower Pecos.  I am grateful to Vickie Munoz, president of the Texas State Experimental Archeology Club, and Peter Shipman  for sharing their expertise with us.

Similar fire drills can be made using yucca stalk instead, and possibly lechugilla, although I haven’t seen one of those yet.  Let me know if you have experience with lechugilla in this way.  I suspect it would work just fine.

This is one way to use a sotol plant, to get you started on the challenge I issued several days ago.  I’m still look forward to your ideas for ways to use this versatile plant.  Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

How Many Ways Can You Use a Sotol Plant?

Sotol Plant of the Lower Pecos region of South Texas

Following the “Survivor” theme, if you were left by yourself in the Chihuahuan Desert with only a knife, how would you find food? shelter? water? shade? home?

Send me your lists of the various ways you could use a sotol plant, and I will publish the one with the most uses.  All parts of the plant are in play: roots, base, leaves, stalk, flowers, pollen.

Ancient people who lived in this area 4000 years ago or more used this plant as a main resource for food, weaving material, ceremonial material, walking sticks, oh I’m giving it away!  Give me your list in the comments section directly below!

Fruit of the Desert

Ever see those reality TV shows where someone is set loose somewhere in the world and told to find their way back? I don’t watch them myself, but I want you to be prepared in case this ever happens to you.  Let’s pretend you are helicoptered in to an undisclosed location in the Chihuahuan Desert, with no map.  Only a knife and your wits.  After locating water and shade, you thoughts will turn to finding food.

One of the best things you can eat right off the stalk in early summer is the green colored fruit of the yucca.  Just break off the pods and cut them open, you don’t even have to peel them.  You can eat both the white and green flesh, which has a surprisingly sweet taste.  You can even eat the crunchy black seeds with no ill effects.  The seeds are almost tasteless and could be added to many other things for texture.  I imagine they would be good toasted also, although I haven’t tried it yet. Let us know if you try it.  If you send me a recipe for how you use this fruit along with a picture, I will even feature it on this blog!

Halo Shelter Paintings

I’ve just returned from another wonderful trip to the Lower Pecos region of south Texas where I had the good fortune of seeing these magnificent ancient paintings.  Their color is vivid even now, 4000 years or more since their creation.  The gold anthropomorph struck me as especially well-preserved. My quivering legs were my souvenir of the rugged climb in and out of the canyon where these paintings are located.  I had to climb straight down–and then straight up– hand over hand on a rope. But luckily not too far.  It was only after we had arrived in the shelter that my guide told me of the rattlesnake that had been there a few days before.

Do not attempt to find these paintings yourself.  They are on private land with no roads.  But do find amazement in what the ancient people who came before us thought, created, and left for us to ponder. No doubt these figures express profound stories and understandings of the world that we may never fully comprehend.

Yet they tell us of their lives and dreams, their gods and heroes, their world and ours.

If you do have the privilege  of seeing such rock art with your own eyes, I hope you will do everything you can to protect it as the world treasure it is.