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SHUMLA eNewsletter - Pecos Experience
Shumla School

September, 2010

September 6, 2010
Volume 2, No. 9

Mud Dauber Damage on 4,000 year old rock art panels
Archeologists and rock art enthusiasts have long fretted about assaults on panels of Lower Pecos rock art, and none have seemed more vulnerable than the 140-foot-long wall at Panther Cave.

Two species of mud daubers now share an inglorious reputation for damage to this region’s 4,000-year-old rock art.  During my youth in Houston, those seemingly benign wasps sculpted fluted tunnels of mud beneath our porch ceilings, garage eaves and window casements.  Now, they proliferate in Panther Cave and Parida Cave, long, sweeping gashes in limestone bluffs above the Rio Grande.  Here they are afforded protection from the weather for their nests as well as spiders for larvae food provisions.

Two species  of mud daubers build nests in rockshelters in the Lower Pecos region.  This is a blue mud dauber named for its blue-black irridesence.  The other is a black and yellow wasp. 
Occasionally, instead of building a mud nest, they will simply lay eggs in a convenient hole, and then seal the hole with food inside for the larvae to eat after they hatch.  The seal is still made with mud. 

SHUMLA Founder and Executive Director Dr. Carolyn Boyd noticed the burgeoning population in photo comparisons from 1988 to 2010.  In a 1988 image, a fine color slide by Fort Clark Springs photographer Bob Parvin showed no mud daubers, increasing to two in the same patch photographed in 2000, and four nests in 2010.  Alarmed, Boyd called the trend she saw “a crisis condition.”

Here, Dr. Noel Troxclair (Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Uvalde) and Dr. Mark Meugge (from Fort Stockton) save a web and spider in alcohol to look at closely in their laboratory when they get home. Spiders are a prime food source for mud dauber larvae, and the blue mud dauber has a particular appetite for black widows.
Val Verde County Agent John Allen put SHUMLA in touch with Texas AgriLife Extension Service entomologists Dr. Allen Knutson, Plano, Dr. Mark Meugge, Fort Stockton, and Dr. Noel Troxclair, Uvalde.  Knutson forwarded thoughtful information and ideas via E-mail, and Meugge and Troxclair came for a visit on Tuesday, July 13.   On-lake boat transportation was provided by the National Park Service and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Members of the group researching mud dauber damage in Panther Cave.
From left, Elton Prewitt, SHUMLA, Chair of SHUMLA's Research Board,  Dr. Dan Foley, biology professor at Sul Ross University, Christine Foley,  professor of the biology at Southwest Texas State Junior College, Dr. Carolyn Boyd, researcher, Founder and Executive Director of SHUMLA, Dr. Mark Meugge, entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, and Dr. Phil Dering, Archeobotanist.


Taking specimens, notes and photographs the two scientists presented valuable information on life cycles of the two species of offending daubers, and discussed possible mitigating measures that would not harm the precious paintings.  In addition to SHUMLA, Amistad National Recreation Area, and Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site representatives, the group also included educators from Sul Ross University, Southwest Texas Junior College, and Comstock High School.

Troxclair teased spider webs from tiny holes in the limestone wall, snagged live specimens of blue and black-and-yellow mud daubers, and preserved the specimens for transfer to his laboratory.  Meugge assisted Troxclair, presented a page of information on the species and possible methods of dealing with them, while the remainder of the 15-person entourage watched, asked questions and provided extensive information to the entomologists about the art in the two rockshelters.

Troxclair will file a full report of the pair’s findings and recommendations which may include judicious placement of wood panels in the rockshelter.  (Wood is believed to be a preferred nest-building surface over stone or brick.)  More studies will ensue, possibly giving students an opportunity to identify and examine dozens of nest holes also used by the daubers directly within the rock, then sealed by mud.

On reading Boyd’s note about the trip, Dr. Knutson commented in reply, “I am glad to know that using boards to potentially re-direct their nest building away from the cliffs may have merit, and that you are planning to evaluate this tactic.  This should be an excellent student project as there are several variables that need testing (size and placement of boards, wood type, painted vs. unpainted, etc.) to optimize the attractiveness.”

Article and Photos by Bill Sontag


Dr. Carolyn Boyd,  Executive Director of the SHUMLA Archeological and Education Research Center,  recently gave a presentation entitled Rock Art as Narrative to a standing room only crowd at the SMU-in-Taos campus in Taos.   In the photo above, SMU professors Dr. John Ubelaker, left, former Director of the SMU-in-Taos campus and Dr. Lynn Romejko Jacobs, right, acting director of the campus, welcomed Dr. Boyd.

Dr. Boyd's presentation was the final lecture in the 2010 SMU-in-Taos Colloquium Lecture series.  Funded by an endowment given in honor of former Texas Governor William P. Clements, Jr. and his wife, Rita Crocker Clements, the lecture series has been offered free and open to the public for over 35 years.

In her presentation Boyd demonstrated the narrative quality of imagery through a “reading” of the White Shaman rock art panel located on the Pecos River in West Texas.   She described this panel as one of the oldest books in North America.   She explained how her research has led her to conclude that this renowned panel not only delineates the ritual hunt for sacred peyote, but documents a ritual reenactment of the first pilgrimage that led to the birth of gods, the establishment of the seasons, and the creation of the cosmos. 

Boyd's presentation was held at the SMU-in-Taos campus at Fort Burgwin just south of Taos, New Mexico.   Since 1973 Fort Burgwin has been an education center of Southern Methodist University.  Located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and surrounded by the Carson National Forest, the campus provides a unique backdrop for study and archeological research.
Article and Photos by Linda Gorski

Do you have treasures in your closet?
SHUMLA and its partners Amistad National Recreation Area, Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site, and The Bank & Trust of Del Rio have undertaken a research project aimed at recording the world-class rock art site at Panther Cave. 

This site is one of more than 250 rock art panels and sites that are scattered through the Lower Pecos Canyonlands.   Many of these sites are  threatened by vandalism, scouring by livestock, windborne soil erosion, flooding, insect damage (discussed in the mud dauber article above)  and  possible effects of humidity on the rock art panels. 

In the Panther Cave Photo Legacy Project,  SHUMLA is searching for any photographs taken of the rock art at this site before the year 2000.  Color slides, color or black and white prints, or digital images will provide a photographic record of the site that will allow archeologists to identify trends in deterioration and gauge rates of change, in particular following the impoundment of Amistad Reservoir. 

“Before the day of digital cameras, visitors to the Lower Pecos rock art sites, took thousands of photographs on film.  To date, we’ve found nearly 600 great photos in private collections in Midland, Kerrville, San Antonio, Austin, Del Rio, Comstock, Brackettville, Albuquerque, and Cranston, Rhode Island, and 5,000 more in institutional archives in San Antonio, Austin and Las Cruces,” said Bill Sontag, project coordinator. 

Thirty years ago, National Park Ranger Miguel Benavides shot this photo of a prominent figure with a feathered hip cluster in Panther Cave.  Benavides and ten more private photo collectors have loaned their personal treasures for the Panther Cave Photo Legacy Project. 

SHUMLA Research Assistant Angel Johnson focuses on insect damage at Panther Cave as entomologists, archeologists and biologists gather species and habitat information.  The July 13, 2010, trip to the famed rock shelter above Lake Amistad was facilitated by boats and rangers from Amistad National Recreation Area and Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site.

“Even though we’re looking for older photos, we’ve learned that relatively recent photos can be of great use, as well.  For example, Bob Parvin’s 1980s pictures of Panther Cave showed us no mud daubers in one patch of the famed panel, whereas later photos showed many.”

Whether you have slides, prints or digitals, safe transport will be arranged to SHUMLA.   If high-resolution (600dpi or greater) digital images or scans cannot be E-mailed, Sontag will  pick up the photos, and personally take them to Angel Johnson, SHUMLA Research Assistant.   The images are then scanned into the SHUMLA database.  Sontag will then return the photos to their owners when it is convenient for all concerned. 

In the future the collected images may be published in academic reports, brochures, books or scientific monographs, but any and all photos used or provided by SHUMLA will be dated and credited to the photographer or contributor.  We may also use your photos in audiovisual presentations to help establish baseline conditions of the art and demonstrate how it has changed over the years, all aimed at bettering resource management in perpetuity.  

We look forward to seeing your photographs.   Please contact Bill Sontag at the email or phone number below to discuss any photos you might have to  share with this important documentation and preservation project.

Bill Sontag
Coordinator, SHUMLA Panther Cave Legacy Photo Project
Del Rio, Texas
Home/Office: 830-768-1393 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              830-768-1393      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Cell: 830-719-2756 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              830-719-2756      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Article and photos by Bill Sontag


Since its founding in 1998, SHUMLA has become known internationally as a premier institution for rock art research and education.  We need your help to continue these efforts to bring state, national and international recognition to the rock art of the Lower Pecos region of Texas and to educate our children in their rich cultural heritage.

To keep these world-class rock art research programs going we need your help and participation.  SHUMLA’s supporters come from all over the world, from local ranchers and business owners, to kids in Texas schools, to archeologists in Australia. If you are not a  Friend of SHUMLA, we urge you to join. If you are a Friend we urge to renew or increase your level of support.

Friends levels include

$25    Student
$35    Individual
$60    Dual
$75    Family

Additional Donor fund levels include

$500        SHUMLA
$1,000     Blue Hills
$2,500     Devils River
$5,000     Pecos River
$10,000   Rio Grande

Donate online.  Go to and click the "donate now" button in the left column.

For more information about becoming a Friend of SHUMLA go to the SHUMLA website at
or contact our Membership Coordinator at


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