The long trail began at base camp and took a circuitous route across the slopes and top of a high ridgeline, dropping finally down the sheer canyon face into the rockshelter. The Wolf Den crewmembers were scattered out along the trail, reveling in the brisk, high mountain air on an early May morning. The hike into the site-mostly downhill-was easy and breathtakingly beautiful.
At the end of a hard day’s work, the uphill hike out proved more of a chore, and eyes stayed focused on the trail and slope ahead. Eventually back at base camp, the crew had a respite around the fire while the cook wrestled with Dutch ovens in preparing the evening meal. The tent camp was arranged along a gentle slope in the midst of a pine and juniper forest. As darkness quickly fell, the air cooled and folks moved in closer to the flames, sometimes enjoying a song, and always in high spirits. An owl insisted upon serenading the crew to sleep each night.
Located high in the Davis Mountains of Jeff Davis County, Wolf Den Cave is perched on a sheer bluff in the shadow of Mt. Livermore, the third highest peak in Texas. Actually comprised of two contiguous rockshelters rather than a cave, the site was home to nomadic hunters and gatherers at intervals for about 3,000 years-from 1700 B.C. until around A.D. 1300.
Efforts to explore and document Wolf Den were initiated by the Center for Big Bend Studies in cooperation with the Texas Nature Conservancy as part of the Center’s on-going research into the prehistory of the Davis Mountains region.
This effort began with the recent documentation of Tall Rockshelter (La Vista de la Frontera 14:4) in the northeastern portion of the range. In May 2001, archeologist and CBBS director Robert Mallouf led a team of 18 people, including SRSU Anthropology Club students, professional staff and volunteers of the Conservancy, and additional staff from the Center, who participated in the mapping and scientific testing of the rockshelter. Conservancy volunteers greatly aided the effort by locating and preparing a base camp prior to beginning the archeological investigation, and by handling base camp and site logistics. As a result, the Center was able to focus entirely on archeological aspects of the project.
Work performed at Wolf Den included instrument mapping of the shelters, documentation of rock art, and controlled test excavations. Excavations revealed a well-stratified floor deposit evidencing numerous superimposed human occupations, with the earliest occupation dating to the Middle Archaic period (ca. 2500-1000 B.C.) of the eastern Trans-Pecos.
Significantly, near the bottom of the cultural deposit and radiocarbon dated to 1700 B.C., are the remains of a possible man-made structure comprised of postmolds and oriented lengths of cut and modified sticks of alligator juniper. This is the only evidence of a prehistoric structure within a rockshelter known from the eastern Trans-Pecos region.
Preliminary analyses indicate that the last inhabitants of the site were Late Prehistoric hunter-gatherers with affinities to the Livermore phase. Rock art at the site consists of two pictographs, both of which have ritualistic qualities and are believed to be related to the late Livermore phase occupation.
Also related to the Livermore phase are grass “bedding,” a series of small, unusual hearths, and a number of well-documented artifacts including fiber sandals, cordage, fragmentary matting, a possible snare, and a number of other perishable items. Analyses of recovered data and artifacts are continuing at the CBBS.
-Robert J. Mallouf
from La Vista de la Frontera 15(1):6.