Sul Ross Student Finds Stone Tool Cache During Field School

J. B. McHam, a graduate student in geology at Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas, made an exciting find in June at the Archeological Field School which was held at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

The field school was a cooperative effort between Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Sul Ross State University. The course, offered through the Behavioral and Social Sciences Department at Sul Ross, was taught by Robert Mallouf, Director of the Center for Big Bend Studies and former state archeologist.

Mallouf and his students were following in the footsteps of pioneer archeologists J. Charles Kelley, T. N. Campbell, and Donald Lehmer, who first investigated this area in the 1930s. David Ing, Regional Archeologist for the TPWD region that includes the area now known as Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area said, “This find demonstrates the value of cooperative efforts between Texas Parks and Wildlife and Sul Ross State University to help establish a long-term archeological program at Sul Ross and to allow TPWD to assess important resources while spending fewer tax dollars.” Mallouf and his students were focusing primarily on prehistoric Native American sites in the management area going back several thousands of years ago. These inhabitants were nomadic hunters and gatherers who populated the Elephant Mountain area on a regular basis.

J. B. McHam’s rare find of a “cache” of stone tools is scientifically significant. The Indians would purposely place the tools together for later recovery.

“This cache was a utilitarian cache as opposed to a ritual cache,” said Mallouf. “There are only four utilitarian caches known to have been found in the Trans-Pecos. Caches are not commonly found by archeologists because their makers would typically place them outside of campsites in the hope that they would nt be inadvertently discovered by other parties. They are usualy found by farmers plowing their fields.” Mallouf added, “there are not many plowed fields in the Big Bend.”

“Most archeologists go through their entire careers without discovering a cache,” added Mallouf. “This has been a fortunate opportunity for these students and an exciting time for J. B.”

J. B. McHam was astonished with his discovery. Mallouf had lectured the students just the night before on caches and what features are indicative of a placement. “The really great part of the discovery was being able to be the first persn to touch the artifacts,” said McHam. “It was magical. I was awestruck by the fact that several thousand years ago someone had set these tools down and I was the first human since then to pick them up and touch them. I had an immense feeling of continuity with humanity.”

According to Mallouf, the cache consists primarily of preforms that would have later been made into dart points. He estimates the dates of the tools as being between 1000 B.C. and 500 A.D. based on stylistic attributes.

The artifacts will go to Sul Ross State University for studies of the stone technology, use-wear patterns, sources of the stone, and typological study.

Clay Brewer, Area Manager at Elephant Mountain, thinks it has been great hosting the first archeological field school to be held in a Wildlife Management Area. “The area was donated for the purpose of conservation and management of Desert Bighorn sheep and other wildlife, and wildlife oriented research. Both the University and the Wildlife Management Area benefit from the field school. Students are provided with a place to conduct archeological research in exchange for cultural resource assessments.”

And what did J. Charles Kelley, a pioneer of Big Bend archeology, have to say, “I hope Bob holds school down here again soon.” He added, “I envy these young people.”