Writing Prehistoric Fiction with Bonnye Matthews

 

Glacier Bay Alaska

Glacier Bay Alaska

Today I’m happy to have Bonnye Matthews as my guest.  Bonnye is an award-winning author of prehistoric fiction concerning early man. Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC received Alaska Professional Communicators’ first place for fiction,  and second place for fiction from the National Federation for Press Women in 2013.  Manak-na’s Story, 75000 BC also received Alaska Professional Communicators’ first place for fiction in 2014.  Bonnye lives in Alaska, and can be found at http://www.booksbybonnye.com, on Facebook and Twitter @Bonnye Matthews. She is also a member of the Goodreads group Prehistoric Fiction Writers and Readers Campfire.

What is the general premise of your books, Bonnye?
There are three: the first, people inhabited the Americas long before Clovis; the second, various attributes of the human

Bonnye Matthews

Bonnye Matthews

may have evolved, but human intelligence has remained at the same level, just applied to different environmental situations and growing upon the foundation each group has managed to build and keep; the third, since I carry 2.9% Neanderthal DNA and 4% Denisovan their “viable young” continue on in me. These humans don’t meet the definition for separate species because their mating produced viable young—so, then, are we not all the same species? I don’t see a we—they, I see an us.
Why are you interested in the time period of 50,000 BC to 75,000 BC?
Well, it’s not that specific time frame as much as it seemed a convenient starting place. I began with Mt. Toba’s eruption, and I wanted to show an interaction among Neanderthals, Cro-magnons, and Homo erectus. Denisovans enter in Book Two. I’m stretching it, but it’s remotely possible. Certainly, it can’t be disproved. There is, also, a lot of data on the area I chose for the first book (southern China). My first three books fall into the 50,000-75,000 BC timeframe, but currently

Ki'ti's Story

Ki’ti’s Story

I’m working at the 35,000 BC level. Some day I may go backwards in time from that, because I think it would be a fascinating exploration. Book Five, however, will be an Atlantic crossing in the 20,000+ BC timeframe.
My interest developed because of my reaction to a History professor’s telling me that “the powers that be” would disapprove of my comments regarding the Clovis Barrier. Did those powers research? Do they reason? What power do they have that they can force study into a narrow groove? Well, that did it. I decided to continue my research. I pursued it for five years. Eventually, I decided to write, but I wasn’t credentialed for non-fiction. It had been done by experts. I could, however, write novels and reach an entirely different set of readers. The “powers that be” have no power over a novelist. The niche at that time for a systematic series on the pre-Clovis peopling of the Americas was vacant. I dived in.
If you met a Neanderthal in your imagination today, what would you ask her?
I’d want to know: what her name is and what it means; what her greatest hope/fear is; living in her world, what’s the most important thing to know; what does she most enjoy/dislike in life; how does she survive life’s tough times; what’s the funniest thing she’s seen in life; how did they keep sinew flexible once they used it for sewing. That last one’s driving me crazy. I haven’t found anyone here who knows. I have visions of a grease strip along seams.
How did you research early humans?
I did a research paper in a history class. My pursuit was “Who Were the First Alaskans?” That should have led me to the

Manak-nas' Story

Manak-nas’ Story

first Americans, because people in the USA are taught that the first Alaskans are the first Americans. Well, my research quickly showed that to be highly doubtful. I kept going. I enjoy prehistoric fiction, because it’s fiction. In my research I kept running into fantasy that academics called fact. I got angry sometimes—well, maybe more frequently than sometimes. For example, Tim Flannery wrote a book called The Eternal Frontier. When I got to the part about Berelekh in northeastern Siberia, I pulled out a map. He says, “People settled on the shore of the Arctic Ocean at Berelekh.” Huh? Berelekh is more than 50 miles from the Arctic Ocean. How does he define shore? He says, “There they hunted mammoth; more than 7,000 bones from these great beasts have been found near their campsite.” I researched. I sought and found the material on the campsite. The bones are UPRIVER from the campsite. Prehistoric people are not going to foul their water supply! Flannery calls it a “kill site” assuming people did the killing. There is no consideration that the prehistoric people might have been gathering bone for tools and fires and ivory for art carving. Reading the translated Russian, the campsite and the flood kill were not concurrent in time. I threw the book across the room. In my opinion the book was trash. It was pretending that fiction was fact. People would buy it and believe it, and it was pure trash. That’s how I research.

Zamimolo's Story

Zamimolo’s Story

I also had a run in with the “ice-free corridor.” The ice-free corridor was not derived from evidence but rather from a conjecture of W. A. Johnson at the Geological Survey of Canada in 1933. The term “ice-free corridor” was coined by Ernst Antevs in 1935. Dr. Lionel E. Jackson, Jr. of the Geological Survey of Canada, along with Canadian archaeologists, searched carefully to establish the presence of the ice-free corridor in Canada in the 1990s. They went there. They concluded, after the application of science, that there had been no ice-free passage from 21,000 to 12,000 years before the present. With science out there, people today are still writing about the “ice-free corridor.” To turn fantasy to fact is frightening. What kind of academic foundation do we have when we do that?
Another example of how I research is first I do a subject search. That leads to journals. Eventually, I do a journal search by taking a journal, such as Quaternary International or The American Journal of Physical Anthropology, or The Journal of Human Genetics, or American Antiquity, and I read the contents page of the first issue. Then on to the next issue. Anything interesting, I’d read. (A couple of times I had to sit there with my French dictionary to get through an article in French.) If an article had any contribution, I’d add it to my Bibliography. You can see why my initial research took five years. Don’t get me wrong. I love to learn. I don’t like being a student, but I will pursue a subject until I’m satisfied I have gained what I can.

Bear with salmon

Bear with salmon

What are you working on next?
My current project is Tuksook’s Story, 35,000 BC. It’s the first time in my series that the People come to Alaska. I have fallen in love with this book. The People come to the Cook Inlet area of Alaska. When they arrived in Alaska, Cook Inlet didn’t exist. This book has a fully fleshed out Introduction. I didn’t start off writing Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC knowing what it was to write a novel. With each book, I learn. One thing I hesitated to do in the first three books is to bring to life the spiritual part of the lives of the individual People. Oh, it’s there. They have Wisdom and they have their stories. The reader can sense it, but I didn’t feel comfortable making it part of the story. In doing that, I cut my People short. Tuksook’s Story, 35,000 BC fills out the picture. I have finally let them come into themselves. And, I’m finding it’s fun! Why it took me so long, I don’t know. Maybe lack of courage.
What do you like best about living in Alaska?
I moved to Alaska in 2005 after wanting to be here since 1974. I stood outside my new home and looked into the clear night sky. The northern lights formed a brilliant humming and crackling white ribbon and headed directly toward me. Right before me in the sky, the ribbon split into two parts and formed an ellipse around me overhead, returning to the single ribbon as it continued on its journey. It was like a hug from the lights. Another night when the lights were out, they formed what looked like vivid green netting across the entire visible sky. That green netting pulsated like a beating heart. I’m way more than a little spiritually open. In both experiences with the lights, I lived the moments spiritually. Incomparable!
Alaska brings out my spirit and makes it dance! I’ve flown over the Harding Icefield and seen glaciers float in the Pacific once spring unleashes them. Sometimes you can see them roll over. From the sight of a sleeping whale in Prince William

Iceberg in Alaska

Iceberg in Alaska

Sound to the humpback that surfaced beside my ferry just three feet lower than my feet (fantastic, but they really stink), to the braiding rivers that make me think of land being created, to Denali—the tallest mountain in the USA, to the wealth of information on the Native culture, to our famous earthquake, to the water tours available to tourists and residents, to the little squirrel that steals my insulation to stuff in the birdhouse, to walking on a couple of glaciers and rafting a river with 4-sized holes in it—all of it makes me feel more alive than in any other place on earth.
I love the cool summers with their crystal clarity and vivid color and adore the snow’s gently smoothing out sharp shapes to curves in black and white in winter. I love moose and bald eagles in my yard. I carry on conversations with ravens in my trees, even though we speak two different languages. They are birds like no other! The downside: a bear out on the point on my creek eating a salmon—that was pushing it. I’d rather not have to carry a gun just to walk the yard.

Thanks so much for being with us today, Bonnye!

 

Author Gary McCarthy Revisits Mesa Verde Thunder

Mesa Verde Cliff Palace

Mesa Verde Cliff Palace

I’m pleased to welcome award-winning Western author Gary McCarthy to the blog today. Gary has written over 50 books about the American West, with over 3 million books in print. His work is available in trade paperbacks as well as ebooks. Learn more about him at http://www.canyoncountrybooks.com or Amazon.

Gary McCarthy

Gary McCarthy

  Your book Mesa Verde Thunder is set in the famous prehistoric cliff dwellings in southwestern Colorado while most of your other novels are either westerns or classic historical novels. Why did you write MESA VERDE THUNDER, a prehistoric novel? I’ve often traveled over to the Four Corners area while visiting Lake Powell and the beautiful and rugged country all around there. I’ve been in Canyon de Chelly and have seen their ancient ruins as well as in many other national monuments. But of all these cliff dwellings and ancient ruins, none can compare to Mesa Verde National Park which is the largest archeological preserve in the United States with over 4,700 sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings.

Mesa Verde Thunder

Mesa Verde Thunder

Who were those ancient peoples and what were they really like? Hunters and gatherers, sure, but if you look at the petroglyphs and pictographs in those deep canyons, you have to believe that they were also a very SPIRITUAL people. They were called the Anasazi which I believe loosely means “ancient enemies” by the Navajo. Today they are generally called “Ancestral Puebloans” which reflects their modern descendants, the Hopi and the Zuni. When I first witnessed Mesa Verde as a small boy, I was awestruck…not only by the cliff dwellings, but by a perfectly preserved body of one of the cliff dwellers. The small mummy rested in a glass coffin out in front of a government building and I couldn’t help but stare and wonder what that man or woman’s life had been like. Of course their lives were much shorter and harder than ours today, but were their hopes and dreams so very different? Even as a boy I thought not.

Before I began to think of a storyline for Mesa Verde Thunder, I revisited the national park many times and

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

talked to the park ranges, anthropologists and archaeologists. I asked endless questions of them….what do the writings in stone really tell us today? Why did the “ancient ones” come to Mesa Verde and why did they suddenly leave around 1300 AD? I found myself on fire with curiosity about these little known people. What did their names sound like and what or  who were their gods? Every people have a creation story…what was theirs? The experts differed on almost all their answers…but in the end they said that if I studied the Hopi and Zuni, their traditions and beliefs, I’d get a better understanding of those long ago cliff dwelling peoples. And so that is exactly what I did and out of it slowly begin to emerge a story, with the RAVEN CLAN and its many characters some of whom I liked and disliked with names like ECHATA, LI-TIA and STORYTELLER.

How did you come up with a plot for the novel when so little is actually known of the people? I wanted to tell not only the story of the “ancient ones” but also how Mesa Verde was discovered and then, sadly plundered. So I began to write TWO stories, one in recorded time beginning around 1888 that set up a clash between those early preservationists who fought to save the ruins for posterity and by careful excavation and study what those cliff dwellers were like…as opposed to those who were simply interested in profit. And this is a clash between opposites that continues to this very day not only in America, but all over the world. I enjoyed the more modern characters, but honestly not as much as the wonderful characters that I created who lived, loved and hunted, lusted and dreamed inside the deep, stony silence of Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde in Winter

Mesa Verde in Winter

And as for why did they arrive in Mesa Verde around 1AD and why did they leave around 1300 AD, what I heard most often was that these small, tough little suvivalists of the ancient Southwest behaved like all prehistoric peoples…they went where they had the best chance to survive. Where there was game, good soil to plant in, plenty of wood burn for warmth and protection and most certainly most important of all, where there was water. And so, that is why the Anasazi left Mesa Verde…because dendrochronology (tree ring analysis) shows without a doubt that the Southwest was gripped in a terrible drought.

Try if you will to imagine those peoples as year after year of drought drained their hope and their strength which also meant their ability to fight of wandering peoples who would surely kill and plunder a weaker clan or village. What I think happened is that, as the drought around the Southwest intensified over many decades, the Anasazi grew weaker while they had to work ever harder. Deer and other game would have left the area in search of grass and water. Nearby trees that had long provided fuel on the mesa tops would have been harvested making wood gathering ever more difficult year after desperate year. Less food and less fuel for the hard winters costing much more precious energy. And here is the great and most interesting

Climbing Ladders at Mesa Verde

Climbing Ladders at Mesa Verde

question…did they one day sit down with the starving remnants of their people and have a meeting and decide to leave Mesa Verde all together for protection against what they might face in unknown places? Or, as I think more likely, did families in small groups seeing their old and young starving and even their people in the prime of their lives growing increasingly weak…did they just quietly leave those magnificent stone dwellings and walk away into the unknown? Some would no doubt have been killed off by peoples stronger and more numerous than themselves, others would likely have been welcomed and integrated into new cultures. What fascinating stories they could tell us about their long ago exodus!

What is your latest novel? I just finished one set in the period 1972-1977; a big time difference from the

Elvis and Cowboy Charlie

Elvis and Cowboy Charlie

Anasazi but not so far in terms of physical distance. It’s called Elvis & Cowboy Charlie and I loved writing the novel because so many Elvis fans just wished Elvis had met a man like Cowboy Charlie and would have turned his life around. It was a “what if” novel and something I’ve wanted to write for years because I was a big fan. I sure can’t change history, but it’s fun to play with it as long as the reader knows the real story.

Why does the American West hold such a fascination for you? I grew up when cowboy westerns were popular and we watched great shows like Bonanza, Gunsmoke and the great movies where silver screen heroes like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Gregory Peck brought the struggles of the West to life. I still love westerns, although they have fallen out of favor…but Russell Crowe and especially Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall have brought a new slant to the American West and with Dances with Wolves and other great movies, people have a chance to better understand what we did to Native Americans and how they still managed to remain strong and vital with their cultures and traditions intact.

With 50 books, you’re a master. Do you have any tips for beginning writers? I believe they should write what they love and not try to copy other writers and jump onto whatever is currently popular. I have always thought that it is the CHARACTERS that we create that are most important…not the plot or the setting. Create complex, deeply developed characters in your novels and it doesn’t matter if they are flying around in space…or sitting in a New York apartment or hunting deer with an atlatl as the Anasazi did long ago. Readers love great characters above all and they are the hardest thing for any writer to create. I wish I could tell you how to create them…but my only advice is just to love and hate and enjoy them and if you are true to your craft, the characters will magically just take on their own lives and even change your plots as their personalities become as real as our own.

Thanks, Gary. I appreciate you sharing with us on the blog. 

How to Eat Bugs and Like It

Dr. John C. Abbott, Director of Wild Basin Preserve

Dr. John C. Abbott, Director of Wild Basin Preserve

My guest today is Dr. John C. Abbott, Director of the Wild Basin Creative Research Center (http://think.stedwards.edu/wildbasin/) in Austin, Texas, a part of St. Edward’s University.

Thank you for being with us today, John. Tell us a little bit about Wild Basin. The Wild Basin Creative Research Center serves as an extension of the St. Edward’s University main campus and includes 227 acres within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system. The preserve is open to the public for trail hiking and events. Wild Basin also offers volunteer opportunities and guided school tours.The Wild Basin Creative Research Center is an educational resource that provides extensive learning opportunities for students and the general public.

I understand you study dragonflies and damselflies. How did you get interested in insects? I have been interested in insects since I was a little kid. They have always fascinated me, I think largely because of their amazing diversity in numbers, form and behavior. I didn’t, however, develop a particular interest in dragonflies and damselflies until I was an undergrad in college. I was helping a graduate student in the lab I worked in, when he pointed a dragonfly out to me and said, no one is really working on this group, you should….the rest is history.

Insects in Thai market

Insects in Thai market

 I heard you say something about eating insects. Are you kidding? Not at all. The US and Western Europe are among the few cultures that don’t regularly eat insects. This isn’t because other countries are poor and they have no choice, it is because it makes sense, both nutritionally and efficiently to raise, harvest, and eat insects. They contain large amounts of protein and other nutritionally beneficial vitamins and minerals we need. They are abundant; there are more insects on the planet than any other group of animals (some 1 million species currently known). In fact, they are so numerous that they are impossible to keep out of our food supply, even if we wanted. I call this FDA sanctioned entomophagy, which is the practice of eating insects.  The government allows a certain amount of insects (or insect parts) in all our foods because you simply can’t keep them out. If you have ever eaten peanut butter, salads, or fig newtons, you have eaten insects.Most cultures around the world actively practice entomophagy (or eating insects). In most Asian markets, you will find numerous types of insects available. In Mexico they have a stink bug festival where not only do they eat stink bugs, but they also crown a Ms. Stink Bug!

Why would anybody want to eat bugs? Insects are plentiful, easily raised or harvested, and nutritionally beneficial.

Bug sushi

Bug sushi

They are also a sustainable food resource. So it is a simple matter of economics, for your pocketbook and the planet. Raising insects is much cheaper and has much less of an impact on the planet than see raising cattle. An economist at the University of Wisconsin, David Madison, once calculated that 1 person could collect 18.5 lbs. of Mormon crickets in a single hour. This many crickets contain 23,500 calories or the same as 87 chili dogs, 49 slices of pizza, or 43 big macs….think of how much effort has to go into producing those foods vs. just one hour collecting insects. Companies are ultimately concerned with their bottom dollar recognize this. One common example of an insect that is regularly used in our American food supplies is the cochineal. It is a type of scale insect that you can find on prickly pear cacti in the south. They actually raise them on cacti in large greenhouses in Mexico. They produce a deep red pigment that is better than artificial pigments for food coloring. So, many bright red foods (Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, Gummy Bears, Mentos, Maraschino Cherries, etc…) get their red color from these insects. Companies list it write on the ingredients label.

Bug pizza

Bug pizza

Can you share any good recipes with us? The typical insect has a nutty taste to it, but in general they will pick up the flavor of whatever you cook them with or the spices that you use. So, we (well, really my wife, she is the cook in the family) often make desert items with insects when we are introducing the idea to others, because who doesn’t like sweets! You can also make some nutritionally healthy flour from insects, by drying them and then grinding them up. Some of my favorite items are Chocolate Chirp Cookies and Waxworm Fritters. There are actually a number of cookbooks out there focused on insect recipes (http://tinyurl.com/op4d2th). There is even a newsletter (http://www.foodinsectsnewsletter.org/)!

Are all insects edible? What should the novice insect gourmet look for? No, some insects are not edible because

Grubs and insects are eaten in many parts of the world.

Grubs and insects are eaten in many parts of the world.

they are toxic, or simply so small or hard to collect it wouldn’t make sense to harvest them as food. One source lists some 1400+ insects (out of the 1 million currently known) that are regularly eaten around the world. The big groups are ants, bees, and wasps, beetles, butterflies, and finally grasshoppers, roaches and crickets. It is the softer-bodied immatures of most of these insects that are used for food. They are more easily digested and easier to collect, so we are talking about eating caterpillars or beetle grubs, not an adult butterfly or big, hard beetle. You want to look for easily collected or obtained insects to use in food. Many insects are easily raised in large numbers. A good place to start is with mealworms (beetle larvae) that can be easily obtained from your local pet store.

Chapaulines, or grasshoppers, in Oaxaca, Mexico

Chapaulines, or grasshoppers, in Oaxaca, Mexico

Where can I try some? In the US, most edible insects are sold as novelty items. A company by the name of HotLix makes lollipops with crickets, mealworms and scorpions for example. You can often find these in novelty stores, but they are also available online. You might try local grocery stores catering to specific ethnic groups (Asian markets, Fiesta, etc…). Little Herds (http://littleherds.org/) is a local nonprofit that just got started. They are actively promoting insects as a sustainable food resource and have events where you can try eating insects. If you want to try cooking your own insects, you should make sure the insects have not been exposed to any pesticides. In other words, it isn’t wise to collect insects locally, especially in urban environments, because of all the insecticides that are used. There are several companies however, that raise insects specifically to be used as a food source for pet reptiles and amphibians. You can purchase insects from them, knowing they have not been exposed to insecticides and then cook them for use in your own recipes.

Many thanks, John. I learned a lot. Time for some crunchy cricket chips!

 

 

 

Jack and Missy Harrington: Landowners and Benefactors

Jack and Missy Harrington

Jack and Missy Harrington

I’m glad to welcome Jack and Missy Harrington from Comstock, Texas, to the blog today. They have lived in the Lower Pecos area all their lives, maintaining family ranches and contributing to the small town of Comstock in many ways.  Comstock is located 29 miles west of Del Rio, Texas, near the Rio Grande, in a region known for rock art that is thousands of years old. The town was founded in 1882 when the railroad built a station there. Currently the town has a population of 223.

Thanks for being with us today.  How did your family get to Comstock?  Missy: My great-grandfather bought the land sight unseen because he was told it had rivers on three sides, about 9000 acres. They lived in Mexico at the time. Five of their kids died of smallpox when little. When the two girls got older the family moved across the river to the property. They didn’t know there were steep cliffs to get to all the

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

water, and that the cows couldn’t get to it!  Grandmother didn’t want to live out on the ranch with a baby, so they got a house in the town of Comstock.

Tell me about growing up here. What did you think of the rock art?  Missy: I was born and  raised in Comstock, but Jack was from Del Rio. We used to have picnics at Painted Shelter [ on grandfather’s property], and I thought everybody had paintings on the wall. Kids could play in the water in the creek there, and the grown ups liked the deeper holes.  I wish I had known more about the rock art when I was a kid. The rock art’s not gonna last for ever. It makes sense to educate people about it. I remember when they built Seminole Canyon State Park. My family owned that property. I remember my grandmother was so mad cause the state wanted it so they could “take care of it.” Who did they think had

Harrington Campus pavillion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

Harrington Campus pavilion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

been taking care of it for 100 years?

A few years ago you donated land to the Shumla School, an outdoor experiential school and research center for rock art and archaeology run by Dr. Carolyn Boyd.  Yes, now they have the Harrington campus. After hearing Carolyn’s ideas to have a school, we decided why not? We deeded about 70 acres to Shumla as a non-profit about 1998. We had two field experiences for teachers before we had any facilities of any kind. They used portable showers in plastic bags. The pavilion and bath house were built first.  Bath house finished the Friday before the Monday.  Immediately we had a teacher training for all Comstock teachers the end of August. It was 112 degrees.  The workshop impressed the teachers for years. We’ve both worked with Shumla ever since.   Now they do programs for kids–all the Comstock and Del Rio kids have come–and for teachers. Each spring Carolyn holds a rock art workshop for adults. This past spring the Harrington campus was used by Dr. Steve Black for his Ancient Southwest Texas Project through Texas State University.

How did you and Jack meet? Missy: He used to date my neighbor. But he decided to check around for other quail. The way it was, Comstock girls had to date Comstock boys, but not the other way around. I broke out of that. We started going together when I was a junior in high school, and now we’ve been married 47 years.

Congratulations! That’s a pretty good record!  You went to college in San Antonio, right Missy? I went to Incarnate Word San Antonio. My degree is in biology, with minors in chemistry and math. I had a job lined up in research. I didn’t plan to teach school. But we decided to move back, and the only job was teaching school in Del Rio. I’d never seen a grade book before in my life. But I taught 31 years all together, 3 in Del Rio, 28 in Comstock.

Comstock ISD

Comstock ISD

Tell me about teaching school.  Missy: Well, I went to school in Comstock, K-12. We had about 90 kids back then.  We had 125 when I taught, a lot of small classes, maybe one or two kids. Sometimes 20.  We had three computers Apple 11e . You wear a lot of hats in a small school. I taught every science from 6th grade  to 12th grade. Now there are about 200 kids. One day a boy was swinging a dead rattlesnake around his head scaring the girls. I made him throw it away, and he coiled it in the trash can to scare the janitor.

Jack, you were on the Comstock ISD school board for 20 years. Yes,  I have a soft spot in my heart about school. It’s remarkable what some of these kids can do. This year we were ninth overall in UIL in Division 1A, and tied for first in physics. Diego Fausett, did that. His coach is Dr. Phil Dering, who teaches science in Comstock now, instead of Missy. Nobody falls through the cracks in Comstock ISD. Class size capped at 18. More

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program  work with Ancient South West Texas Project in Spring, 2014

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program work with Ancient Southwest Texas Project in Spring, 2014

individualized, one on one. Good teachers. Lot of home-grown teachers. Strong culture of the school. Many teachers were Missy’s students. K-12 intermingle. It’s good cause the little kids look up to the older one, and older ones model good behavior. They’re sisters and brothers. Older kids can work with the younger ones. Everybody takes care of everybody. The kids are safe and they know they are. Comstock ISD has over 2000 sq. miles, but only 50-60 kids live in CISD. The rest come from Del Rio. Three busses bring them. Kids have to apply to come to Comstock. They can’t have bad grades, failed tests, or bad behavior. If they break the rules they go home. We don’t compromise. We set standards and we hold ’em. Missy: I planted the cottonwood trees when I was a freshmen in high school. There were only two trees on campus when I was in school. Our principal bought about 11 trees. Now there are about 40 trees and lots of grass.

You were also with the volunteer fire department, right Jack?  I was a volunteer with the fire dept. for 40 years. There was a fire around Juno [ now a ghost town]  in the 1990s burned over 20,000 acres, took about two weeks to put out.  This spring there was one near Pandale, then around Juno too. Burn bans are serious. Forest service came in for this one, and another big crew came to cook and set up a kitchen. They had a huge mobile kitchen and 18-wheelers full of food, and big refrigerated trucks. There were over 300 fireman. We served dinner in the school cafeteria. About 6 of these volunteers and 5-6 of us local Comstock folks.  We cooked breakfast, made sandwiches for lunch, and made dinner at night. They would come at daylight.  Volunteers came from everywhere:Wisconsin, Colorado, Montana, California, fireman from everywhere. The kindergarten kids made laminated placemats for the firemen. The men took them home with them.

What makes Comstock a good place to live? Missy:  It’s nice and quiet. We don’t even have a key to the house. We’ve never locked the house, even when I read Helter Skelter. It’s just a different way of life. We grocery shop like a rancher, go to town once a week. The two custodians at school across the street keep their soda water in our refrig on the breezeway. It’s peaceful. No traffic. Might have to worry about a cow or two on the road, though.

Thank you both for talking with us today! As of this publication date,  Jack and Missy are in Houston awaiting the call for a  medical procedure. Best wishes, Smilin’ Jack! We wish you only good things!

Cooking Wild Plants with Leslie Bush

 

Hot Acorn Bread Fresh From the Oven

Hot acorn bread fresh from the oven

My guest blogger today is Dr. Leslie Bush, (https://Macrobotanicalanalysis.com), an expert in edible wild plants. In her day job, she identifies plant remains from archaeological sites. But at home she like to cook with wild plants that she gathers or even finds online.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Leslie: My interest in wild cooking comes from history and archaeology, from wanting to understand what common foods of the distant past tasted like. I also wanted to share the dishes with archaeologists and native plant enthusiasts here in central Texas.  Acorn-producing oak tress are common in many parts of  Texas, and acorns were used extensively as food by ancient people.

Boiling acorns

Boiling acorns

Friends and the Internet both told me I should make recipes that mix acorn flour or mesquite flour with wheat flour and leavening, to give people a chance to taste the unique ingredients in a form they’d enjoy. Despite their advice, I decided to be a purist in my first attempt. I harvested acorns from the red oak tree in my front yard.  I discarded acorns with obvious worm holes and those that floated in water. After an hour’s soaking, I shelled the acorns by cracking them with a river cobble on my concrete porch. I wasn’t  particularly careful about removing all the thin film of inner husk that clings to the acorns. I also used fresh acorns, not ones that had aged for at least a year, as she recommends. Once the acorns were shelled, I boiled them to remove the tannins. I was careful to make sure they never cooled down, transferring them from pot of simmering water to another. I used ten(!) changes of water, and the nuts were still fairly bitter.

Many people recommend grinding the acorns into flour before leaching out the tannins, so working with whole acorns is

Roasted acorns

Roasted acorns

probably another reason my acorns were bitter. (Apparently, you can wrap the ground acorn flour in cheesecloth and leach out the tannins by placing it in running water. I’ve heard putting the flour in the back tank of a toilet is great because the water isn’t wasted and gets changed frequently, but I couldn’t bring myself to try it.) For the final step, I rubbed the acorns in oil to replace what they’d lost in boiling, then roasted them in the oven. They had the taste and texture of bitter corn nuts.

Mary: I learned that acorns are high in carbohydrates and fat, which is good if you are living entirely on native plants and animals, as native peoples did. One hundred grams of acorns has about 387 calories, 41 g carbs, 24 g fat, and 6.2 g of protein.

Acorn Bread

Acorn bread

Leslie: After that first round of acorn adventures, I knew I should order acorn flour to make acorn bread this spring. Even processed by a pro, the flour still has a slight tannic bite, but it bakes up wonderfully. I can see how people crave the taste of acorns! This is the recipe I used:http://www.food.com/recipe/acorn-bread-267655.

I also want to share my recipe for yaupon tea. Our native Texas yaupon is a species of evergreen holly with the ominous botanical name Ilex vomitoria. It’s a close cousin to the plant that makes yerba mate, Ilex paraguariensis. Both plants have caffeine in their leaves and make excellent tea. In its strongest form, yaupon tea is the Black

Leslie Bush explains edible wild plants

Leslie Bush explains edible wild plants

Drink that Native ancestors used in ceremonies across much of what is now the eastern United States. I like to make yaupon as a gentle green tea. The taste is very similar to yerba mate, but the homemade yaupon is much fresher – and it’s free!  Yaupon may be harvested at any time of year. Cultivated dwarf yaupon and pencil yaupon varieties are also acceptable. Any fruits should be removed prior to toasting. Here’s my recipe:

Yaupon Tea

Toast yaupon leaves and small branches in shallow pan or baking sheet for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Higher temperatures will result in a darker tea with more caffeine. Leaves should fall from most branches during the toasting process. Remove any remaining leaves from all but the smallest branches and discard bare branches.

Toasted leaves may be cooled and placed in a sealed container for up to three months.

Boiling ilex, or yaupon

Boiling ilex, or yaupon

Measure 1 part tea to 4 or 5 parts water. Boil water and pour over tea leaves. Steep until tea reaches desired concentration. Tea leaves may also be brought to a boil in the water, although this produces a harsher tea.

 

Recommended Resources

Parker, Julia F. It will live forever: Traditional Yosemite indian acorn preparation. 

Buy acorn flour http://buyacornflour.com

 

Jack Skiles: Keeper of the Legends

Weather front coming into Langtry, April, 2014. Skiles home is under the trees in background.

Weather front coming into Langtry, April, 2014. Skiles home is under the trees in background.

My guests today are Jack and Wilmuth Skiles of Langtry, Texas, located right on the Rio Grande with a view towards the mountains of Mexico. Their house overlooks legendary Eagle Nest Canyon, home to the famous bison jump at Bonfire Shelter (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bonfire/index.html), as well as several archaeologically important dry rock shelters, which were occupied by people 4000 years ago or more.  This spring archaeological research is being conducted in the canyon by Texas State University. The Skiles family has preserved the canyon and the historic legend of Judge Roy Bean, Law West of the Pecos, for almost a century. Jack has been a steward for the Texas Historic Commission for many years.

Thanks for being with us today, Jack.  Tell us how you learned about Eagle Nest Canyon.   I grew up here.

Jack and Wilmuth Skiles

Jack and Wilmuth Skiles

Dad came out here as a kid, and mother came out to teach school. All the mothers used to let us kids run through the canyons, play cowboys and indians in this old rough canyon, and go swimming. There used to be a good swimming hole with a spring right in front of Eagle Cave. When I was about 10, everybody was doing down for a swimming party. I slipped on a mossy slick spot and cut my chin. Still have the scar. I grew up prowling around and hunting arrowheads in this canyon. Our parents didn’t worry about us falling off the bluff. One of my first clear memories when I was three or four is going down on daddy’s back on the ladder the Witte Museum in San Antonio had set up in the mid-1930s for an archaeological project. Dad had been working with the Witte people and ate lunch with them. Dad said, “Git on my back and we’ll go down.” Mama cried, “No,no, no! Hold tight! Hold tight!”

Jack Skiles talks to visitors in his museum.

Jack Skiles talks to visitors in his museum.

You have a small private museum of pre-historic materials and historic artifacts. How did that come about?  Well, mom and dad had collected some Indian things, and he built an addition on the back of his store to display them. After college at Sul Ross in Alpine, I moved to Monahans and took a part-time job at Sand Hills State Park museum. I got to know Bill Newcome, director of the Texas Museum at the University of Texas in Austin, and took a problems course with him when I was there in 1959-60 on an National Science Foundation grant for teachers. He was working on his pictograph book at that time (The Rock Art of Texas Indians, 1967), and Forrest Kirkland’s paintings were all around the walls of his office. I was real interested in that. So, I’ve also had an interest in museums, archaeology, and rock art, cause I grew up around it.

Storm clouds over the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center and Botanical Garden in Langtry, Texas.

Storm clouds over the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center and Botanical Garden in Langtry, Texas.

How did you start the museum and botanical garden in Langtry? In the early 1970s I went into the Texas highway department in Austin one day, and by the time I left they had offered me a job to start the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Bean) and Botanical Garden here in Langtry. The old saloon was still there, and I had a master’s degree in botany, so I knew the plants.The garden trails were already laid out. They had hauled in a load of giant daggers from Big Bend. I leased about 7000 acres, plus our own ranch, so I went out and gathered the plants. I knew which ones we’d want. I spent a lot of time with locals and old timers learning what those plants were used for. Later they brought in some plants that are not native, but they’re not in the cactus garden.

You also wrote a book about Judge Roy Bean. That’s right. I’ve got another one I want to

Judge Roy Bean Country, by Jack Skiles.

Judge Roy Bean Country, by Jack Skiles.

publish too. We’ve had some famous visitors to the house because of Roy Bean, too. The actor Robert Redford spend a weekend with us one time for a movie they were making. It was hot, so he went swimming in the pool, and when he left, he forgot his swimsuit! So Wilmuth has Robert Redford’s Speedos!  Edgar Buchcanon from the 1950s Judge Roy Bean TV series was here at the dedication of the Pecos Bridge in 1957. Also actor Slim Pickens, he was a funny old guy!  One time dad was swimming naked in his original swimming pool when Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas showed up at the door.  He was with Francis X. Tolbert, the writer from Ft. Worth. Dad jumped up and ran to the barn and wrapped himself in a tow sack tied around his waist with rope. And that’s how he met William O. Douglas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_O._Douglas).

What are some of the changes you’ve seen in this area?  Well, when I was born the population of Langtry was

Large catfish head at Skiles Ranch.

Large catfish head at Skiles Ranch.

about 400. Today it’s 14. We used to have a lot of picnics and community suppers, but now we don’t.  There’s hardly any ranching here any more. People can’t make a living. Good for the land. It will replenish without the livestock. Poor for the economy of this area. We still have good well water, but damming up the Rio Grande to build Lake Amistad ruined our fishing. Used to be a beautiful water hole with perch down there. The river used to be 40 feet deep down at Twin Caves. I caught at 48 pound catfish one time. Dad caught one that was 64. Fishing used to be so good, we’d invite people for a fish fry before we even caught ’em! There’s no deep water between here and the Pecos River anymore because Lake Amistad filled it all up full of mud. I could tell you all about that.

You’re right here on the border. How have practical relations with Mexico changed? Untill 9-11 we kept in close communication with people across the river. They kept a boat down there. They’d come and honk, and I’d go down and get ’em and bring ’em up here. For a while there were no deer over here, but there were plenty across the river. We always went over there to go hunting. 9-11 stopped everything. We used to have dope and illegals coming up this canyon. Several came to the door wanting food, and Wilmuth gave ’em food. One day guys were walking down the canyon and I yelled that it’s private property, y’all get out! Made me mad. I got my .30-06 when they acted like they couldn’t hear me. I put a bullet in the gravel bar ahead of ’em and they got out. It was foolish. I shouldn’t a done that.

What are some of the challenges of living here, Wilmuth? The biggest is that we have to go 60 miles to the grocery store and medical care.  And with less population here, it can get lonely.  We had the devil of a time getting TV. We had to go to Del Rio and rent a motel room to watch John Glenn’s first flight, and the same thing in 1969 when NASA went to the moon. Around 1980 we got a great big old dish antenna that finally worked. Jack: I was lucky to have a wife who was willing to move to Langtry.

Claret cup cactus in Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center botanical garden.

Claret cup cactus in Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center Botanical Garden.

What about snakes and varmints? Are they a problem? We’ve had  three mountain lions come up in our yard over the years. I’ve got a picture of one. Now we have a trapper that’s paid by the ranchers for how many mountain lions he kills. Last year that guy caught nine. I haven’t seen a rattler in three or four years. That’s because we have so many road runners that kill ’em. Hawks and owls get ’em too. Little rock rattlers in the canyon are most common, but not in the open uplands. They like it where there’s more cover. Rock rattlers seem rather docile to me. [As we speak there is a line of road runners looking at their reflection in the glass patio doors.]

What would you like to see happen to this canyon in the future? I’ve wanted so badly to get this canyon studied more, so I’m glad the archaeologists are here now.The very best thing would be to have a museum here where the artifacts wold be shown to the public and have tours of the canyon and make sure everything was taken care of archaeologically speaking. I’d like to see my museum stay here. That’s a worry for me. I want to see the stuff protected. I’ve had the canyon rim surveyed for a road so that people could drive around it. But who would take care of it, who would pay for it? That’s a worry for me.

 

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 http://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.

 

Teddy Stickney, Rock Art Pioneer

The intrepid Teddy Stickney

The intrepid Teddy Stickney

I am happy to welcome Teddy Stickney as my guest today.  Teddy has been recording rock art in Texas for almost 25 years and helped develop the early guidelines for this task.

Thanks for being with us today, Teddy.  How did you first become interested in rock art?    I became aware of rock art when I was about 6 years old.  There was a large Navajo kachina incised in the sand stone wall in a canyon across the San Juan river from my Dad’s property in New Mexico.

You are an official archaeology steward for the Texas Historical Commission. 

Teddy recording rock art

Teddy recording rock art

What does that entail?  I’ve been a volunteer steward for my area in West Texas for 21 years. Stewards monitor archaeological resources for the THC.   For example, the THC may want a certain area to be surveyed for archaeological evidence. We volunteer to investigate these sites. We also keep an eye on construction sites that may be near archaeological resources, and try to get to know any arrowhead collectors in the region. We act as additional eyes and eyes for the historical commission. There is so much territory to cover, they just can’t do it all.

I know you’ve been part of a number of field schools and recording projects.  What are some of your most memorable ones?  One of the best ones for me was during the Texas Archeological Society’s field school near Dolan Springs on the Devil’s River in 1989. The survey crews were out finding new rock art, so we concluded that we were going to have many more sessions of recording on this property.  Our group formulated guidelines for recording that we used for at least the next 18 months during these sessions.

Have you done much travelling outside Texas as part of your rock art interest?

Taking exact measurements

Taking exact measurements

Before I got involved in Texas I had worked with Col. James Bain in New Mexico, who was the petroglyph curator for the Museum of New Mexico. I also worked with Jane Kolber who ran rock art field schools in Arizona and did some work in Utah.  So I had had some experience with recording rock art before the field in 1989.  Also Paul Steed, who wrote The Rock Art of Chaco Canyon (1980), was in the rock art crew for the 1989 field school.  Paul had world experience in photographing.

Is there any particular type of rock art you are especially interested in?    I don’t think there is any type of rock art that I like better than another. I think all of it is very important because it is record of the culture. Rock art tells a story of the activities of the culture, the people’s daily routine, the animals around them, and so on.

Tell us about any mishaps or adventures you’ve had in your rock art exploration. 

Teddy examines abstract figures

Teddy examines ancient painting

Well, one time we were camping in the Texas Panhandle in March, and it was so cold the water in the coffee pot froze. Then there was walking the high ledge to Curly Tail Panther shelter overlooking the Devil’s River in the Lower Pecos. The bad part was that once I got there, I realized I had to walk it again to get out!  Then there’s hiking in a rough canyon of Big Bend State Park with heavy backpacks searching for a site in 105 temperatures. Once I walked about six miles on a very worn trail near the Rio Grande and found a recent camp site with a fire pit and modern trash. I figure it was a trail used by illegal immigrants, but I didn’t see anybody.

What are some of the big questions that still interest you about rock art?  I would love to talk with one of the artists that painted or incised art on a wall.  I’d love to hear their thoughts on their art. What did the site location mean to them? I’m interested in how their mixed their paint and managed all the painting. Did one person do it or was it done as a group?

 What advice would you give someone who wanted to get involved in archaeology or learning about rock art?  Join the Texas Archeological Society, participate in a field school, and research rock art on the internet.

Throwing Spears with Gary Nolf

 atlatl11A Please join me in welcoming Gary Nolf, president of the World Atlatl Association (WAA), to the blog today.  Visit their website at http://waa.basketmakeratlatl.com  to learn more. According to the website Texas Beyond History (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net), “in prehistoric Texas, the atlatl and dart was the main weapon system in use for 10,000 years or more until they were replaced by the bow and arrow between A.D 500-1000.”

Galf Nolf demonstrates his technique

Gary Nolf demonstrates his technique

Thanks for being with us today, Gary.  Could you describe an atlatl briefly for our readers? Atlatls are ancient weapons that preceded the bow and arrow in most parts of the world. They are one of humankind’s first mechanical inventions. The word atlatl (pronounced at-latal) comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, who were still using them when encountered by the Spanish in the 1500s. Other words include spear-thrower, estolica (Spanish), propulseur (French), speerschleuder (German) and woomera or miru (English versions of the most common Australian terms).

Atlatl and spears or darts made and photographed by Jack Johnson

Atlatl and spears or darts made and photographed by Jack Johnson

What did ancient people used them for?  They were used for hunting game. The largest animals would have been mastodons and woolly mammoths. Atlatls were even used with harpoons for hunting whales and seals. They were also used in warfare. The Spanish conquistadors feared them because they could pierce certain types of armor.

How did you learn to throw one? Is it hard?  I learned by attending an event in Vermont about 10 years ago. I could teach you how to throw in just a couple of minutes. The difficulty comes with the accuracy which takes a bit of practice.  

I’m wondering if you’ve ever been to the Archeo-Olympics at Seminole Canyon State Park.  Atlatl throwing is one of the events.   No, I have not, but I have been to events in Nevada at the valley of Fire, contests in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Florida , New Jersey and Quinson France.

What kinds of events can modern atlatl throwers compete in?  If you go on the World Atlatl atlatl menAssociation web site you will see that there are two standardized contests. One is the European and other is the International Standard Accuracy Contest. You can shoot anywhere in the world and compare your score. The scores are listed on the web site which is updated frequently. Each event also has local events such as 3D targets.

Are you a good shot? I will let you decide . Google my name or go to You tube and watch me on the David Letterman Show.

Wow! I’ve never had anyone who was on Letterman on the blog before (I don’t think!) Cool!  That must have been fun.  And yes, I’d say you are a very good shot.  You know, the rock art of the Lower Pecos, which is the area I write about, contains images some people think might be atlatls and spears. Where else were atlatls used? Evidence of their use has been found in every continent in the world except Africa. This may be due to the fact that they are made of wood. They are still used in parts of Mexico and Australia.

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you with an atlatl?  I think the funniest thing is watching the faces of people trying it for the first time. The dart goes much father than you think. I have literally taught thousands of school kids how to do it and seventh graders can throw over 50 yards with a little practice. I even had a group of nuns try it who thought it was awesome.

Hunter with atlatl

Hunter with atlatl

How does the World Atlatl Association benefit its members? The WAA web site provides hundreds of links to get information on the history of the atlatl, how to build an atlatl and where to purchase an atlatl. It provides information how to run a contest and keeps tract of who is scoring what around the world. The Annual meeting this year will be held at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Connecticut the first weekend in October. The WAA website also posts a list of all of the events that are scheduled world wide.

Hey, look who’s coming in!  It’s Jack Johnson,  park archeologist at Amistad National Recreation Area.  Hi Mary, and you too, Gary. Good interview. I hope you don’t mind me coming in. I just wanted to tell you about the equipment I made in the picture. I tried to set it up to show how the atlatl spur engages the nock at the back of the dart. I also included a hafted stone point and one of my sotol darts with a modern carbon fiber foreshaft and target point.  The carved wooden point is something I made this afternoon just for fun and to my knowledge has no precedent in the archeological record of the lower Pecos. It is inspired by Inuit seal hunting harpoon tips, usually made of bone or ivory. My intent is to use this for atlatl spearfishing, but it will probably snap the first time I hit the rocky bottom of the riverbed.

Well, thanks for coming by, Jack. You can read one of Jack’s stories in my post of January 14, 2013.  Gary, thanks so much for blogging with us today. 

Recommended Links:

Fun for Kids  http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/kids/hunting/index.html#main

Hunter takes deer with atlatl, 2011 http://mdc.mo.gov/newsroom/st-louis-county-hunter-becomes-first-state-take-deer-atlatl

Joseph Schuldenrein: Indiana Jones of Internet Radio

Joe Schuldenrein, host of  internet radio archeology program

Joe Schuldenrein, host of internet radio archeology program

My guest today is Dr. Joseph Schuldenrein, host of the internet radio show Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality and 21st Century Archeology on VoiceAmerica.com (http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/1975/indiana-jones-myth-reality-and-21st-century-archaeology). Dr. Schuldenrein is also president and principal archeologist of Geoarcheology Research in Yonkers, New York.

Thanks for being with us today, Joe. Why did you decide to do an internet radio show about archeology?

I always thought that if I didn’t go into archaeology I was best suited to a career in media. I viewed myself as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. But I love appearing in public and seem to have a knack for communicating with people from a broad range of backgrounds and socio-economic strata. In 2011, I was contacted by the VoiceAmerica Internet radio station. They had seen my company’s web-site and thought that archaeology was an appealing topic for their multi-faceted audience. I did not need much convincing. As I got into it, I realized that the need to present archaeology to a broad audience was critical, if we, in the professional community, are to survive in a world of diminishing governmental funding. It should be clear to all archaeological professionals that public outreach is now our major mission if archaeological careers are to remain viable going forward.

What are some of the challenges of doing a show like this?

These emerged at the outset. I had thought that running a program would be a lot like presenting a paper at a

A current excavation by Schuldenrein in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He is pointing to a 19th century well

A 19th century well excavated on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

meeting. Since I had lots of experience at that and basically present extemporaneously, I figured that the transition to radio would be relatively easy. It was not. At all. VERY fortunately, I was able to pre-record my first show. Otherwise it would have been a disaster. My initial off the cuff presentation would have been a dismal failure had I not had the opportunity to do several takes. The learning curve was initially bumpy. I scripted my next few programs meticulously. And they seemed to work well, in my eyes at least, until some of my colleagues told me that the program sounded too scripted, stiff, and staged. Eventually, I was able to get a protocol down that allowed me to work from an outline and to work my interviews in the more natural and extemporaneous format that fit me better. VERY FORTUNATELY, I now have a magnificent intern who does nearly all of the behind the scenes work, including recruiting guests from my network of contacts, proposing topics of interest and co-ordinating with the station. She also does all of the advance work that involves Public Relations work and advertising. Without her I would NOT be able to continue. The broadcasts themselves are not the hard part. The preparations are.

Other than my husband Steve Black, who are some of the guests you’ve had on? 

We have been fortunate to have had so many. We cover all aspects of archaeology so we pride ourselves in both a diverse audience and range of guests. Some of the more colorful include Brian Fagan, Tom King, the Culture Minister of Afghanistan, Sonny Trimble of the Corps of Engineers, Hampton Sides, who wrote the recent best-seller on the excavation of the Titanic, and the folks who produced American Diggers. Those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

 What episode has received the most listeners? or do you have statistics on that?

The Titanic piece was extremely well received. We could get statistics on the individual shows, but the station more typically monitors our numbers on a month to month basis. They do this through Internet technology. We originally had a few thousand listeners (in 2011) and are now up to about 40,000 per month. That number is a sum of the live audience, generally pretty small, and the number of listeners who have accessed the individual episodes as podcasts. The success of Internet radio is measured by the call-ups of the podcasts and we are doing well by that and related criteria.

Where do you do most of your own archeological work?

Procuring OSL Dating Sample at wadi Hasa, Jordan

Procuring OSL Dating Sample at wadi Hasa, Jordan

I have worked nearly everywhere in the world. Since I am trained as a geoarchaeologist, I have honed my specialty by consulting with large research firms throughout the U.S. My graduate work was in the Near East and, as a result, I have always had an Old World focus. I have collaborated with researchers and academic institutions in Central Europe, parts of Africa, and intensively in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan). I am more of a methods person than a regional specialist. As the founder and Principal of my company, GRA, I have shifted the focus of our work in response to the changing realities of the research and applied worlds. Right now we are heavily centered on high tech methodologies, urban archaeology, international heritage development programs and media.

What motivates you about archeology in the first place?

I could wax poetic about the innate drive I had to do archaeology as a child. That would be a lie. As a college student in the heated ‘60’s and ‘70’s, I was actively involved in protest politics. When I became disaffected with politics in my last year of college, my main objective was to get out of school as quickly as possible. The onlyway I could do that in 4 years was to load up on Anthropology courses. In my senior year I was inspired by

Geoarcheological investigation at prehistoric shell midden, central California coast

Geoarcheological investigation at prehistoric shell midden, central California coast

my archaeology professor, the late Dr. Phil Weigand. He encouraged me to try archaeology as a way of “finding myself.” I packed off and did a season at Cahokia under Dr. Mike Fowler. I was hooked and never looked back.

What do you want people to learn or discover from listening to your show?

My main objective on the show is to bring the message of archaeology to the general public. I think the biggest eye-opener in our field is the degree to which the message of the past provides a road map to the future. For example, archaeological scientists should be able to provide compelling evidence for climate change, via their window on past circulation systems that are readily documented. However, as professionals we are so focused on our esoteric research that we fail to reach the greater communities that can benefit from our knowledge. Besides, archaeology is so inherently appealing to most people. I am amazed that, as professionals keyed to our own research, we consistently ignore the big picture and, by extension, the greater public. In my own small way, I see this radio show as a venue for expanding our reach. I am reminded of how the late Carl Sagan was able to transmit his fascination with astronomy to the greater public. It is imperative that we archaeologists do the same.

It’s been a pleasure to have you on the blog, Joe. I hope you’ll come again sometime.