Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope: The First Modern Excavator of the Holy Land.

We have many outstanding women in archaeology working in Texas today, but it wasn’t always that way. I’m delighted to share this story of Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope who led an expedition to Egypt in 1815.

Archaeological Fantasies

Lady Stanhope dressed in men’s Turkish garb. Image via Wikicommons.

There is so much that has been written about this incredibly stunning woman. I’m not even going to try to and repeat it all, rather I’ll just link you to one of the better posts about her which is  Elizabeth Kerri Mahon‘s post over at Scandalous Women. She gives a very thorough recounting of Stanhope’s life.

Briefly though, Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope was born of a fine pedigree in 1776, one of three daughters born to Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, by his first wife, Lady Hester Pitt. She was educated and outspoken. She flaunted convention in her life, never married, but took several lovers, and traveled extensively. She made a home for herself in the middle east, obtaining the title of Queen not through marriage but through presence and guile. In her height of power she maintained an army to…

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How to Talk to an Archaeologist

Thanks to Anneilia Alex for this great post on How to Talk to an Archaeoloigst!

It's Always Something


Like many archaeologists I spend 1/4 of my year in a hole in the ground.

This is the kind of thing that happens to me because I’m an archaeologist. I call Visa to put a travel alert on my credit card. I’m on hold. Enya “Sail Away”* is playing. I’m irritated because I’m on hold, but if I must be on hold, yeah, I’ll listen to “Sail Away.” Good choice Visa.

Visa representative: “Hi thank you for holding. My name is Rubin. Could you state your name please?”

Me: “Annelia Alex.”

Rubin: “And how can I help you today Ms. Alex.”

Me: “I need to put a travel alert on my credit card.”

Rubin: “Okay we can do that for you today Ms. Alex. And tell me where and when will you be traveling?”

Me: “Okay I’m already in Israel, but from February 14- 18 I’ll be in Armenia, then…

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A Better Presa Canyon Experience

Dr. Stephen L. Black leads the Ancient Southwest Texas archaeological project in the Lower Pecos.

Dr. Stephen L. Black leads the Ancient Southwest Texas archaeological project in the Lower Pecos.

Some of you may remember my whine about hiking Presa Canyon in Seminole Canyon State Park last November (see Nov. 2013, Hiking Presa Canyon). I lost five toenails on that one, and very nearly suffered heat stroke.  My husband Steve took a similar hike last Sunday, with considerably better results. In fact he thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was the same canyon, same terrain, but with a few notable differences. First, it was 65 degrees F instead of 95  F last year when I went.  Since stone canyons heat up like ovens when the sun hits them, this difference was huge. No heat stroke for Steve and his companions.  This time of year in the Lower Pecos the weather is variable, and you have to be prepared for anything. I’ve been there in March when it was 95, and I’ve been there in March when it snowed. Luck of the draw on that one.

The second difference was that Steve is in much better physical condition than I was when I went.

Steve gives the Bobcat wave.

Steve gives the Bobcat wave.

After all, he’s been hiking up and down canyons everyday for the past two months. That strengthens the quads, folks. Very useful when climbing over boulders. Now, he did have knee surgery last year, but he did his physical therapy and recovered fully.  I on the other hand, lackadaisically went to the gym twice a week and moaned every time I had to do a leg lift. It shows. I’m still bad.

The third big difference was that Steve and his pals got a kindly rancher to pick them up after six hours, instead of hiking the complete eight-hour trip!  What I wouldn’t have given for a pickup outta there!  I would’ve called EMS for a helicopter ride out except that A) there’s no cell service down in a canyon [yes, my lovelies], and B) it would’ve cost $1500.00.  So I opted to keep walking. But I thought about it!

Because of his better preparation and more hospitable situation, Steve really didn’t suffer.  He slept

Steve Black overlooking the Pecos River in New Mexico.

Steve Black overlooking the Pecos River in New Mexico.

well that night, but he didn’t hurt all over.  I slept 12 hours the night after my hike!  My body needed that much to recover. After all, I’d pushed these old bones pretty hard for a city slicker, which I am but wish I weren’t.

The beauty of the canyon was there for both of us, however, and any of you who make the trip. The cry of the birds, the flower hanging precariously from the stone, the buckeye trees in bloom. And of course the rock art. Because there is rock art, we  fool ourselves into thinking that’s what we go to see, that that’s the reason for going. But it’s not.  The canyon itself is the reason. Just to be there, in the air, surrounded by astounding beauty, as the hawks fly overhead.

7th Annual Lower Pecos Archaeolympics at Seminole Canyon

Throwing a spear with an atlatl is one of the eventsof anicent skill at the Archeolymics.

Throwing a spear with an atlatl is one of the events of ancient skill at the Archeolympics.

Reporting today’s blog post is Vicky Munoz, Archaeology Intern at the Shumla Research and Education Center.

The 7th Annual Archeolympics was held February 22,2014 at Seminole Canyon State Park near

Vicky Munoz

Vicky Munoz

Comstock, Texas, about 35 miles west of Del Rio.  The Archeolympics is a primitive skills competition featuring atlatl and spear throwing, rabbit stick throwing, and frictiion fire starting. Ancient people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas used these three basic skills for daily life, but few contemporary folks practice them today. It’s not unusual for today’s paleo-triathletes to compete in all three events.

Participants included Boy Scout groups from Del Rio, Texas; the Experimental Archaeology Club at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas; and a group from San Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas; as well as individuals with a special place in their hearts for Archaic skills, some coming from as far as Houston.

The rabbit stick throwing competition was first up. A rabbit stick is a non-returning boomerang, and was used all over the world as a primitive hunting device.  The paleo-athletes took turns lining up and throwing at two defenseless soccer balls that stood in for rabbits about 20 feet down range. Each competitor had three shots per turn. This event, or any of the events for that matter, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most participants missed the targets, but the crowd went wild when one of those “rabbits” bit the dust.  Watch the short video below by Jack Johnson to see the power of a rabbit stick against a mighty opponent, the “Pumpkin.”

A few of the competitors even had hits on all three throws! The bar was set high in this year’s games. Winners had to be determined by sudden death.   Juan Carlos won in the youth category (second place went to Josh Allen), and Lauren Kempf in the adult (second was Fabian Castillo and third was Jerod Roberts).

Friction fire starting was the second event of the day.  This is definitely the sprint event for the games. The event was open to all ages, but only five competitors were brave enough to enter: Robin Matthews, Jack Johnson, Charles Koenig, Bryan Heisinger, and Jerod Roberts. The rules for this event are deceptively simple: Start a fire using nothing but a spindle or hearth-board as fast as possible. No bow drills, all muscle.

Charles Koenig makes fire

Charles Koenig makes fire

Competitors arrange their kits in front of them on the ground. When the flag drops, the race begins.  Within 30 seconds, two were beginning to feed their hungry embers to create that fire. Charles Koenig and Jerod Roberts were neck and neck, but it was the previous champion, Charles, who eventually came out on top with a blistering time of 46 seconds.

The other competitors had to be reminded that the race was not over, and that there were two more places on the podium still up for grabs. They quickly went back to trying to conjure fire. Jack Johnson, also a previous friction fire race champion, added drama to the race by dropping out not just once, but twice, citing exhaustion. He had been doing fire starting demonstrations most of the morning and didn’t have enough energy saved up for the race! Jerod Roberts had also burned most of his energy giving Charles Koenig a run for his money, but managed to get another ember going, only to lose it once more. Exhausted and somewhat defeated, Roberts took a timeout. Watch this short video to see how to start a fire with a sotol drill and hearth stick.

Meanwhile Bryan Heisinger (see, Feb. 25, 2014), with laser like focus and coaching from the new champion Koenig, began

Friction fire starting race

Friction fire starting race. Photo courtesy Megan Vallejo.

to get his embers glowing. A newcomer to the sport, Heisinger later recounted how he was so determined to get a fire going that he was forgetting that he also needed to breathe! Clocking in over 4 minutes, Heisinger took second place as the others looked on, clearly feeling the burn (pun intended) in their arms. At just over 6 minutes, Robin Matthews and Jerod Roberts declared a draw and were awarded third place.

After halftime, the atlatl and spear throwing competition began. The sport was divided into  amateur, skilled, and team events. This is the real crowd pleasing event and the one with the largest number of competitors.  Apparently launching pointed darts at animal targets really gets the adrenaline going. Some competitors are so serious that they bring their own darts and atlatls from home.

Robin Matthews throwing with atlatl and spear

Robin Matthews throwing with atlatl and spear. Photo courtesy Shumla.

Scoring is as follows: three points for hitting the target of the deer in the heart/vital area, two points for a hit on the neck and face of the deer target, one point for a hit on any other part of the flesh. The rules to this are also deceptively simple: earn the most points in three attempts.

As the shoot-out began, the wind began to calm down a bit which was a big help to the competitors as they were throwing into the wind. For most of the hunters, the prey eluded them and they went hungry that night but of course, there is always a winner. In the amateur category, Amanda Castañeda took first place with second to Joe Taylor. Amanda delivered a fatal blow to the deer as well as one to her competition.

Those with more experience (and confidence) compete in the skilled category.  At this level, the competition is fierce with friends and couples being pitted against one another. Playful verbal jabs are slung at one another, especially within groups where they’re all vying to be the alpha atlatl hunter. It’s all-out war.

Charles Koenig, who also blazed his way to the top in friction fire race, took the top spot in the skilled category with Mallory Marcone taking second, and Jim (just Jim) taking third place. The youngest winner in the skilled competition was Willie Canseco, age 13.  Here’s a short clip of the atlatl event, courtesy of Michael Strutt and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In the team atlatl category, the group known as the Eaglenesters took first place. Troop 255 managed to slip in and snatch second place, and the Sharknados defeated the remaining competition in sudden death for third place.  Each team got five shots at the target. Teams were composed of 2-5 people, with every member taking at least one shot.

Prize objects for winners

Prize objects for winners. Photo courtesy Shumla.

Ultimately, it’s important to note that these competitions aren’t just for pride or fun. Each first place winner received a beautiful Perdernales style projectile point knapped by Kinley Coyan from Sanderson, Texas. Unlike the recent Sochi Olympics, however, no national anthems were sung, nor flags raised.

The Archeolympics is the brainchild of National Park Service Archaeologist, Jack Johnson, Amistad National Recreation Area, and organized for the last five years by Park Ranger Tanya Petruney, Seminole Canyon State Park. The

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

purpose is to give the public the opportunity to get hands on experience while learning about the lifeways of the prehistoric Lower Pecos inhabitants, including demonstrations on flintknapping, fire starting, plant processing, cord making and, weaponry. The event is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The National Park Service, The Rock Art Foundation, and the Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center. The event continues to grow every year but as of right now, this is one of Texas’ best kept secrets. Other events similar to this are held around the state year round. For more information on this check out the Texas Atlatl Association Meetup page (

Well, that concludes this year’s Archeolympics! If you “like” the Seminole Canyon State Park Facebook

Great competition. Photo courtesy of Shumla.

Great competition. Photo courtesy  Shumla.

page, they will update you on when the next Archeolympics will be held plus all the other super cool things they have going on all year round. A special thank you to all the staff and volunteers! Without them this event would not be possible. Hope to see y’all next year!

What Does It Mean to “Finish” Writing a Book?

When is it ever done?

When is it ever done?

I had an extra cookie the other night to celebrate “finishing” the manuscript of Peyote Fire, for the second time. What exactly does “finish” mean?  Well, in this case it means I’ve got all the scenes written. Even though they may still not be in the right order, or written from the right point of view. In other words, I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

Give the manuscript a careful reading

Give the manuscript a careful reading

For one thing, I’ve still got to sit down and read the whole thing through.  I haven’t done that yet.  I’ve only read it as I wrote each section, one by one.  So I don’t even know if the story hangs together.  OK, I’ll put this on the list: Read entire manuscript.

Then, I’ll need to make all the changes and revisions I find as I read.  That should take a while.   Mark out the rest of February for that.  Add to list: Make changes.

Then, I’ll need to add the changes and revisions I wrote out on another list this afternoon. These changes arose from going back through my notes and comments from my profoundly wonderful and necessary friend Anna, who is serving as my accountability coach. Add to list: Make more changes.

Next week I’m starting a six-week novel-writing seminar, so I’ll have to incorporate the

Structure? What structure?

Structure? What structure?

suggestions and ideas I get from that as well. Put on list: Make seminar changes.

Then I’ll have to print the whole thing out and read it through again. There goes March.  Next I’ll have to work up my courage and send the manuscript to a few trusted readers.  Oh boy, I can’t wait to see what they have to say!  One of those readers will be my husband Steve, who is knee-deep in cave dust this spring leading an excavation in Eagle Nest Canyon.  I’m counting on him to be my primary fact-checker.  I have no doubt he’ll let me know if any of my facts about the ancient Lower Pecos are incorrect.  Mark off April to get over my shame.

Editing is essential

Editing is essential

Then, after I rewrite again to incorporate the wisdom of my readers (I’m just praying they don’t say chuck it and start over!), the fun of formatting will begin.  I’m stocking up on acetaminphen even now. Most writers will tell you this is their least favorite part.

Have I got marketing on the list?  Working on the blog, keeping up with Facebook, doing the social media thing?  And what about a cover?  Where am I going to find art for that?  If I decide to submit the manuscript to a traditional publisher, I’ll also have to find an agent.  How do I do that?

So you see, “finished” is a pretty loose concept when it comes to writing fiction. I’m hoping I can keep my momentum going long enough to see this project through. Meanwhile Deer Cloud is getting stronger and Jumping Rabbit is coming into her own.  I can’t wait to see how their story ends!

Paleo Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas

Turkey Vegetable Platter

Turkey Vegetable Platter Appetizer

Want to celebrate Thanksgiving like a caveman? Then perhaps you’ll want to plan your dinner according to the so-called “paleo diet.”  The idea of the paleo diet is that human beings should eat like our ancient ancestors in order to prevent certain health problems that can arise from modern diets full of fat, sugar and refined flour. Proponents of the paleo diet advocate eating meat, seafood, vegetables, nuts, and eggs, while omitting grains, refined sugars, most fats, and dairy products.  What? No whipped cream for my pumpkin pie?  No cornbread dressing?  How can this be?  Here are a few suggestions.


Mixed nuts

Mixed nuts

Bacon-wrapped broiled shrimp

Bacon-wrapped broiled shrimp

For appetizers that rock  (that’s a little paleo humor), try bowls of mixed nuts, a vegetable tray, and bacon-wrapped broiled shrimp.  Let’s assume that our caveman ancestors lived on the Texas coast where they could seine for shrimp and had wild hogs running around to make bacon.  They could also harvest pecans and perhaps find wild squash and prickly pear fruit for their vegetable tray at this time of year.  No sour cream or cream cheese dip. No ranch dip. Strictly speaking, not even hummus (a dip made of chick peas and tahini or sesame seed butter).  But bacon-wrapped shrimp?  Sign me up!

Roasted turkey

Roasted turkey

Main Course

Turkey of course! Or ham. Or brisket. Or leg of lamb. All meats except those with preservatives are allowed on the paleo diet.  No flour, milk or butter in that gravy though.  Just use the delicious juices from the meat itself, maybe enhanced with a little wine.  Not bad.

Side Dishes

Potatoes, squash and tomatoes are all native to the Americas, while greens are native on all continents except

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Antarctica. All would be perfect for Thanksgiving dinner.  Of course these particular vegetables would not have been available on the Texas coast thousands of years ago, but human beings are creative and adaptable.  Ancient people would have found whatever plant foods were edible at this season and used them.  The real problem for Thanksgiving as I see it, is dressing.  Paleo diet books generally do not endorse grains as part of the natural human diet. No corn bread.  No wild rice. No rolls or biscuits. Not even a crumb. Sorta makes me want to cry. But such is the sacrifice to go paleo.


This category may present the most problem to those who want a Thanksgiving dinner just like momma used to

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

make.  Remember no flour, butter or dairy allowed.  Sssh!  No pie crust, no cake, no ice cream? What’s left?  Well, how about a crustless pumpkin pie?  Same wonderful flavor and texture, sort of like a mousse or custard.  Sounds good to me!  Or how about fresh autumn pears poached in spiced red wine?  That’s one of my favorites.  Light, healthy, and delicious.  The perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

I think it would be safe to serve wine or beer at this paleo dinner, since archaeologists

Poached Pears

Poached Pears

have found evidence in many parts of the world of ancient alcoholic beverages.  Tea, being nothing more than leaves, would probably be all right too.  But that cuppa coffee to go with dessert?  I doubt it.  Oh well, I’ll just have another glass of wine and call it a day!

Let me add that the so-called paleo diet is controversial due to the lack of grains and limited fats.  And lack of whipped cream. I think I’m just going omnivore, or as the hipsters say, flexitarian. That way I get to choose a little bit of everything!

Happy Paleo Thanksgiving Everyone!

For my friends outside the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving whenever you celebrate abundant harvests.  And if you don’t have a special holiday for giving thanks, I hope you give thanks for every day you have.  Cheers!

Related Articles

Hiking Presa Canyon

Canyons of the Lower Pecos

Canyons of the Lower Pecos

Now that cooler weather has arrived, some of you may be thinking of hiking in the desert and canyons of the Lower Pecos region of south Texas. Wonderful idea!  I had the privilege of taking the guided hike to Presa Canyon last spring.  The temperature was only forecast to be 95 degrees Farenheit, so the tour was a go. If it’s more than 100 F, they don’t take groups into the canyon, for good reason.  I promised you then that I would write more about it ( see my post of March 18, 2013), but it has taken me awhile to get up the guts.

Rock Art in Black Cave

Rock Art in Black Cave

The hike was about eight hours, four hours in to Black Cave, and four hours out.  Information from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department describes the hike as “extremely strenuous” due to “rough terrain,’ and suggests that hikers have “experience in backcountry hiking skills.”

I had been hiking in the Lower Pecos for 20 years or so, and I said to myself, “well, it’s ALL rough terrain,” so I thought I could  do this. I made my reservation and paid my fee at Seminole Canyon State Park. Everything started fine, a lovely walk though a beautiful place. I felt good.

But when we turned down Presa Canyon itself, the nice flat canyon floor became a jumble of stones ranging in size from an Easter ham to a small Volkswagen. I wish I had thought to take a photo, but I was concentrating too hard on where to put my next footstep. Over and over again. For about six hours.

We reached Black Cave about noon, had our lunch, and studied the enigmatic rock art to be found there. Then we headed back. Four hours of watching where I put my foot, step by step, in exquisite torture.  I hurt the whole way back. Every time I put my foot down for the next step, my toe hit the end of my boot, which hit the rock. Ouch!  In addition to several blisters, I eventually lost five toenails.  I wish I had a picture of that purple horror, too, to scare you straight. Fortunately for you, I don’t.

You see, I made some poor choices about this hike. Like the socks I chose. And how much I carried on my back.  And,

Deer head skeleton under blooming Mexican buckeye tree in Presa Canyon

Deer head skeleton under blooming Mexican buckeye tree in Presa Canyon

knowing what I know now, I should have invested in different hiking boots. Even my wide-brimmed straw hat that I thought was great, turned out to snag on every limb and thorn along the way.

Another mistake was thinking I was really healthy enough to be doing this in the first place. There is a reason I was dragging at the end.  Heat, exertion, and high blood pressure.  Rock canyons become radiant stone ovens by afternoon on hot days. There was a time or two during the hike I thought I might pass out from heat stroke. I drank a lot of water, but high blood pressure gets you in the end.  I thought I was OK before I started, then Val asked me, “is your blood pressure under control in normal conditions?”  “Yes,” I said. “Well,” she said,  stating the obvious,”these are not normal conditions.” Oh. I get it now.

Fortunately, I made some good choices too. Like being reasonably fit. And taking extra moleskin along to bind those blisters. And taking my trusty hiking poles. And freezing a couple of bottles of water the night before–they were sure good in the heat of the afternoon. I even had some to share, which was good because somebody else ended up carrying my pack most of the way out.  Thank you, whoever you are.  Sorry I don’t know your name. You were galloping along so easily, and I was so far behind.

So, here’s my list of must-haves if you take this hike:

Sunscreen, of course


Bandana wrapped around small frozen bottle of water–wet the bandana down and wrap it around your neck in the afternoon to chill down

Baseball-style hat, possibly with neck protection

Black Cave

Black Cave

Moleskin and knife or small scissors

wool hiking socks

good fitting hiking boots

hiking poles (optional for the young and agile)

easy lunch that does not need refrigeration, like peanut butter sandwiches

one or two pieces of fruit like apple or orange for snack



camera ( I only took my iphone camera because it was light.  But you may want higher resolution photos)

Bandaids (you never know when you might need first aid)

Be careful, and watch where you put your feet and hands.  Rattlers, you know. Just remember that a rescue crew would have to walk in and out four hours each way too.  I asked the designated first aid specialist with us , a big former Army type, if he would carry me out if I broke my leg.  “Yes,” he said,” but I don’t bring anesthetic.  You would hurt like hell.”  Go safely, my friends.

International Archaeology Day

Chinese terracotta soldiers

Chinese terracotta soldiers

October 19, 2013, is International Archaeology Day around the world.  Archaeologists discover the human past, giving us more information about our ancestors and our world than we have ever known before. They do it through hard physical work, digging outdoors in all kinds of weather and all kinds of terrain. They also do it through hard intellectual work in the lab, sorting, measuring, comparing, figuring out what the bits and pieces mean.  It can be cold and lonesome. It’s almost always tedious and frustrating.  And it’s always fascinating.

Historic artifacts

Historic artifacts

If you know an archaeologist, first of all, count yourself lucky. Secondly, take him or her to lunch during October to show your appreciation. You’re bound to enjoy their stories!

Below, I’ve compiled a short, select tour of archaeology around the world to acquaint you with some of the amazing work that’s helping us all understand who we are.

Archaeologists at work in the field

Archaeologists at work in the field

Underwater Archaeology

Underwater Archaeology

Take an Archaeologist to Lunch Month!

Even archaeologists have to eat

Even archaeologists have to eat

Even archaeologists have to eat

Even archaeologists have to eat

In many states, even Texas, October is designated as Archaeology Awareness Month. During this month, archaeologists share their work with the public in all kinds of lectures, workshops, demonstrations, re-creations and tours.  Many school kids and other members of the public get their first understanding of the work of archaeology at such events.

An informal email survey I published in the Society of American Archaeology Bulletin way back in 1999

Some of the 'pit crew' at the Raven Bluff archeological site, Alaska. Left to right: Steve Lanford, Stephan Heidenreich, Ines Medved, Jess Peterson, Gared Smith, and Jeff Rasic

Some of the ‘pit crew’ at the Raven Bluff archeological site, Alaska. Left to right: Steve Lanford, Stephan Heidenreich, Ines Medved, Jess Peterson, Gared Smith, and Jeff Rasic

demonstrated that the majority of working archaeologists who responded were influenced as pre-teens to become archaeologists by such public presentations.  They were engaged by the mysteries of the past that archaeologists investigate every day.

Archaeologists, park rangers, historic conservationists, museum personnel, and others protect the cultural heritage and natural environment of our nation. Now the government, which pays many of their salaries, is shut down, leaving many of these folks without paychecks. Do you know somebody in this position? I do.

So I would like to make a modest suggestion. During October, take an archaeologist–or a park ranger, etc.–to lunch.  Just to say thanks.

What do you say?  Let’s make October “Take an Archaeologist to Lunch Month!”