Research Objectives

During our initial visit to Hinds Cave in 1974, we mapped the site and examined the walls of several recent looter holes. Despite the site’s disturbed condition, it was apparent that substantial stratified deposits remained intact and that these were laden with perishable remains. Here, we realized, was a site that could fill a major research gap revealed by the 1959-1969 archeological salvage program at Amistad Reservoir. Ecological approaches had come to the forefront of archeological research in the 1960s with the realization that human societies, especially hunting and gathering societies, were intimately and inseparably connected to the natural environment. The dry rockshelters found at Amistad and in the surrounding the canyonlands were ideally suited for ecologically minded research, but most of the archeological research previously done there focused on culture history and chronology (see Before Amistad).

The testing at Parida Cave and excavation at Conejo Shelter in 1967-68 by archeologist Robert Alexander were useful steps in the right direction. For instance, modest samples of coprolites (dried human feces) were recovered and studied from both sites. David Riskind's 1970 analysis of the coprolies from Parida Cave was the first study of Lower Pecos coprolites ever published. The coprolites from Conejo Shelter were the first to be fully analyzed by Vaughn Bryant from the Lower Pecos region.

The stratigraphic complexity evident in both sites, however, proved quite challenging as did the logistics, sampling, and analytical requirements needed to effectively investigate perishable deposits. A full-scale ecologically oriented investigation of a dry rockshelter would have required far more concerted research effort than was possible within the limited scope of the Amistad salvage work. The work at Conejo Shelter provided only a brief snapshot of the dietary habits of Late Archaic peoples, but did point the way for the Hinds Cave project. At Hinds, the perishable deposits seemed likely to span most of the Archaic era and to contain many coprolites that could be used to greatly expand the studies of ancient diets.

The goal for the first season at Hinds Cave in the summer of 1975 was to excavate the perishable deposits to obtain quantifiable samples of all material culture, especially plant macrofossils and coprolites. We anticipated recovering a wide range of perishable and non-perishable artifacts within the site’s stratified contexts. Our specific objectives were designed to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the deep perishable deposits. These were:

Excellent progress toward fulfilling these objectives was made during the first season. Block A yielded a finely stratified record of plant macro fossils, artifacts, and faunal remains, while Area B sampled a deeply stratified latrine deposit that yielded several hundred coprolites dating to Early Archaic times. We had not reached bottom in either excavation. We also discovered that relic hunters had only stripped off the upper one-meter thick fiber layer in the back of the cave, leaving undisturbed lower deposits of unknown depth. Plans were immediately made for a second season.

The objectives for the second season (1976) were designed to sample the lower deposit at the site in both areas A and B.

Research objectives for the dietary study in addition to those listed above were:

Research objectives for the botanical study included:

Photo of cave interior looking west
View looking southwest of the interior of Hinds Cave during the initial visit to the site in 1974. As can be seen, the deposits were pockmarked with looter holes and spoils piles. TAMU Anthropology archives.

Original 1974 pre-excavation maq of Hinds Cave
Original 1974 pre-excavation map of Hinds Cave showing surface features and disturbances. Graphic by Vaughn Bryant.

Photo of freshly dug looter hole
This freshly dug looter hole visible in the central section of Hinds Cave during the initial visit in 1974 revealed both the ongoing tragedy and the fact that intact deposits yet remained. The tan-colored soil layer is disturbed looter back dirt, but the section of the dark brown fiber zone were undisturbed as were the deeper, ashy gray deposits. TAMU Anthropology archives.

Photo of collecting of sediment samples Every day during excavations dozens of bags of artifacts and matrix (sediment samples), fine and course fraction, were carefully collected and hauled back to camp. TAMU Anthropology archives.