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Monday, October 23, 2017

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We've Got Chemistry!
Shumla Archeological Center

February, 2017

Dear Shumla Friends and Donors,
 
I've decided... there are not enough ways to express gratitude in the english language. I hope you don't tire of hearing it, because we never tire of saying it, thank you -- THANK YOU! -- for your support of Shumla and our mission. Over 50 people answered our call and stepped up in December to bring us to our goal. We raised the $100,000 we needed to make the match! Because of you we are starting 2017 from a place of strength.  
 
This first month of 2017 has seemed like one single day. As you read on you will see why time has moved so quickly for us at Shumla. We are making such wonderful progress, building our team and raising awareness of the Lower Pecos Archaic library and our fight to preserve it. 
 
Read on and expect your February eNewsletter to come quickly. There's so much more to tell you!
 
The Formula for a Great Team!
 
With the arrival of Dr. Karen Steelman as Shumla's new Assistant Research Director, chemistry is happening at Shumla! 
 
Karen got her PhD in 2004 under Dr. Marvin Rowe at Texas A&M University. There she participated in the development of new sample preparation methods for radiocarbon dating. She is one of the few experts in the plasma oxidation method used to date rock art, including paintings found in the Lower Pecos. Now, she is building a plasma oxidation instrument right here at Shumla!
 
What is a Plasma Oxidation Instrument?
 
The plasma oxidation instrument is made up of air-tight tubing, pressure gauges, vacuum pumps, and electronics. The plasma oxidation method is used to extract organic carbon from tiny paint samples collected from a rock art panel. Organic carbon can be dated through radiocarbon dating to determine how old it is and thereby determine when the painting was produced.
 
How does it work?
 
Put your protective goggles on... 
First, a tiny paint sample, the size of a fingernail is placed inside the instrument. Then, a turbomolecular pump creates an extremely strong vacuum inside the instrument. It's so strong that even air molecules can't help but be sucked out. So, it is essentially empty of all molecules before high purity gases for our experiments are pumped in. 
 
Ultra High Purity (UHP) argon and Research-grade oxygen fill the sample chamber. Copper electrodes on the outside of the glass sample chamber are connected to a Radio-frequency generator and a matching network to create a glow discharge or plasma (it glows like a neon sign). Through this process electrically excited oxygen converts organic material in paint samples into carbon dioxide and water. 
 
The carbon dioxide is separated and frozen inside a glass tube using liquid nitrogen. This tube is flame-sealed using a blow torch. Finally, the carbon sample is sent to our collaborators at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry for radiocarbon dating.
 
Why is dating the rock art important?
 
Dating the paint in a rock art panel is a pretty big deal! Aside from the obvious, finding out how long ago the art was painted, we can also relate one rock art mural to another. This allows us to determine if many murals were painted at the same time or at a particular time in history. We can also use the dates to relate the rock art to the dated archaeological deposits left by the people who painted them. Shumla archaeologists are documenting the rock art in great detail to preserve it and the information it holds. This is the reason for the Alexandria Project. Gathering paint samples and processing them to find out how old they are is an important next step in this work.
 
Can scholars/students come to Shumla to learn the Plasma Oxidation process with Karen?
 
Before starting at Shumla this month, Karen was a Full Professor of Chemistry at the University of Central Arkansas teaching and researching with undergraduate students. She's looking forward to having qualified interns conduct chemistry research with her at Shumla (email info@shumla.org, for more information). 
 
In addition to answering many research questions about rock art here in the Lower Pecos, Karen will also collaborate with rock art researchers around the world using this unique technology to further our knowledge of the global human past.
 
We're so excited to welcome Karen to the team! As you can see, we have great chemistry...
 
Huge Accomplishment in the Rattlesnake Canyon Project

Last week, the Shumla Research Team presented the Amistad National Park staff with the full data and findings of the 2016 Season of our Rattlesnake Canyon Project. These four giant binders represent the result of a year's worth of effort to document one of the most remarkable and most endangered rock art sites in the region. (Naturally, all our data is also safely housed digitally on our servers and backed up repeatedly.)
 
Preservation-through-documentation of this mural has been one of our primary goals for the last two years. Flooding in 2008, 2010 and again in 2014 deposited a layer of silt and debris over the lower portion of the Rattlesnake Canyon pictograph panel. Gravel deposited in the canyon bottom during the 2014 flood event raised the canyon floor by 3 to 4 meters ensuring that future floods will cover and ultimately destroy the mural. The only thing that makes this imminent tragic loss bearable is that Shumla is making sure the art and the information it holds will live on.

Rattlesnake Canyon Mural - 104 ft. wide. 
Photo credit: Gigapan by Ruperstrian Cyber Services

Shumla began documenting the site and its pictographs in May 2014 to create a detailed permanent record of the paintings before they are damaged further or lost forever. Our documentation efforts included site, feature and figure mapping, figure identification and description, high resolution photography, microphotography, elemental chemical analysis, stratigraphic analysis, figure illustration and the development of graphic databases. Visit www.shumla.org to learn more about the Shumla Method of rock art documentation. Let's just say, when it comes to exhaustive documentation of endangered murals, we leave no stone unturned...(wink, wink).
 
Shumla Gets Good Press

Shumla and the art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands has been getting some good press lately. This is largely due to the critical acclaim and fantastic success of the book, The White Shaman Mural: An Enduring Creation Narrative, by Carolyn Boyd.
 
Check out some of the recent articles!
 
 

Vice President of the Board 

Elton is a veritable legend in the realm of Texas Archaeology. After college and grad school he began working with the Texas Archeological Salvage Project (later renamed Texas Archeological Survey) from 1963 until he and his wife, Kerza, co-founded Prewitt and Associates, Inc., a cultural resources consulting firm, in 1979. 
 
Over the course of his 50+ years of experience in archaeology, he has delivered more than 90 papers, lectures, and talks, and is the author or co-author of over 75 reports, monographs, book chapters and journal articles. His main research interests include the archeology of North American Southern Plains, Edwards Plateau and Chihuahuan Desert, and projectile point morphology.
 
Now retired, he is still very involved in archaeology. He serves as Vice President and past President of Shumla's Board of Directors. He also holds appointments as a Research Fellow at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory of The University of Texas at Austin and as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Texas State University and is a Fellow of the Texas Archeological Society. In 2010 the Texas Historical Commission bestowed him the Curtis D. Tunnell Lifetime Achievement Award in Archeology and in 2015 the Texas Archeological Society honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He is one remarkable fellow!
 
Thank you, Elton, for your loyal service as a Director and Officer of Shumla's Board and for your service to Texas cultural heritage!
Make Us Smile!
 
Wanna do some good with every Amazon purchase you make? Designate Shumla as your charity on Amazon Smile. We'll receive .5% of every purchase you make at no additional cost to you. 
 
Want to send Shumla a present? Check out our Amazon Wish List!

Thank you!
Visit Del Rio!

Come for the rock art, stay for the atmosphere! The rock art of the Lower Pecos could not be situated in a more beautiful setting. The desert is vast here, with huge skies and rolling hills that meet the crystal blue waters of the Amistad Reservoir. After you've visited the rock art, you can bird watch, water ski, bass fish, and then go camping for the night. Or you might like to visit the quaint shops of Del Rio's old town and drink wine at the Val Verde winery. In Del Rio there are lots of comfy places to stay and yummy places to eat. And you'll always find a warm welcome. Come and see!
 
 


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