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The Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos
2007 Jul 16

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In 2006 Dr. Jean Clottes was invited by the resident archaeologist Dr Carolyn Boyd, to study the rock art of the Lower Pecos in Texas. He described the paintings and petroglyphs as "second to none, and ranking among the top bodies of rock art anywhere in the world." Dr Carolyn Boyd is the Executive Director of the Shumla School, the organisation initiated to study and preserve the ancient rock art of the Lower Pecos River. The Shumla School is now offering courses to study the work in this region.

The painted images and petroglyphs adorning the walls of hundreds of rockshelters and minor overhangs uniquely define the Lower Pecos archeological region.

Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos

The rock art of the Lower Pecos dates to at least 4,500 years ago and possibly considerably earlier.

Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos

Four main styles were defined by W.W. Newcomb. From oldest to most recent these are: Pecos River, Red Monochrome, Red Linear, and Historic. The oldest, the Pecos River style, is also the most common and most complex.

Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos

Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos

Many of the Pecos River rock art paintings are widely regarded as expressions of shamanistic ritual. As summarized by Carolyn Boyd and Phil Dering in a 1996 article:

'Shamans are found primarily within Native American societies that rely heavily on hunting and gathering or fishing. In these societies, the shaman serves a crucial role as diviner, seer, magician, healer of bodily and spiritual ills, keeper of traditions, and artist.

Acting as the guardian of the physical and psychic equilibrium of the society, the shaman, through altered states of consciousness, journeys to the spirit world where he will personally confront the supernatural forces on behalf of his group. Access to the spirit or Otherworld can be achieved through such methods as the use of hallucinogenic or psychoactive plants, fasting, thirsting, blood-letting, self-hypnosis and various types of rhythmic activities.'

Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos

There is clear evidence of hallucinogenic plants including peyote, mountain laurel beans (seeds), and datura (jimson weed) in the rock art and cave deposits of the Lower Pecos. There is ample evidence of the ritual and medicinal importance of such psychoactive plants in many Indian cultures in the New World.

Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos

The most comprehensive catalogue of Lower Pecos rock art is still the work of Dallas artist Forest Kirkland who with his wife and partner, Lula, visited dozens of rock art localities across the western half of Texas in the 1930s.

His watercolor renditions of what they observed are often the sole surviving record of images that have since been destroyed by time and vandalism. The story of the Kirklands' work and most of his drawings appear in the 1967 book The Rock Art of Texas Indians (text by W.W. Newcomb), reissued in 1996 by UT Press.

Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos

PECOS EXPERIENCE: The Art and Archeology of the Lower Pecos
October 14 - 19, 2007, Shumla School, Comstock Texas.

Each autumn the Shumla School presents a week-long opportunity to visit some of the most spectacular rock art sites in the world. Dr. Carolyn Boyd, Executive Director of the Shumla School, leads each day's tour. Dr. Boyd is an expert on Pecos River Style rock art and is the author of Rock Art of the Lower Pecos, in which she discusses exciting new interpretive ideas for the local art.

A different visiting scholar joins the School's instructors each year, adding their own particular expertise and interpretations to the discussions. In 2005 Dr. David S. Whitley took that role; he describes the experience as, "Anyone wanting more than just armchair knowledge of our hunter-gatherer forbearers will find Shumla programs a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see, feel, and even taste the past."

The 2007 visiting scholar is Dr. James D. Keyser, widely known for his expertise in rock art and Northern Plains ledger art. Besides his broad knowledge of rock art, Dr. Keyser is well versed in Plains archeology, including bison-jump sites. Bonfire Shelter, the earliest and most southern bison-jump site in the United States, is one of the locations which will be visited during this program. Joining him in discussions at Bonfire will be Elton R. Prewitt, assistant archeologist to David S. Dibble during the original excavations in 1963/64. Mr. Prewitt has worked as a professional archeologist in Texas for over 40 years, and the Lower Pecos region is one of his favorite research areas.

During the week, in addition to visiting rock art sites, participants will hear lectures and see demonstrations by experts on various topics besides rock art, such as the local archeology; local plant identifications and their uses; and prehistoric technology such as atlatls, earth ovens, paint making, flintknapping, and plant fiber arts.

Registration closes August 15; the program is limited to fifteen participants. Visit the Shumla School Web site for more information http://www.shumla.org/ or contact Craig Hensley chensley@shumla.org. You can call the office at 432-292-4848.

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