Heritage, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 1994 Page: 26
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John Peterson, Book Review Editor
The Archaeology of
La Calsada: A Rockshelter in
the Sierra Madre Oriental, Mexico
C. Roger Nance 1992. University of Texas
Reviewed by Timothy K. Perrtula of the
Texas Historical Commission.
Nance's book is a useful synthesis of
1965 excavations by the University of Texas
at La Calsada rockshelter, a deep stratified
deposit in the Sierra Madre Oriental of
Nuevo Leon, Mexico. These excavations
were one of the main accomplishments of
the Northeast Mexico Archaeological
Project, headed by Dr. Jeremiah F. Epstein
of UT, which also included archaeological
surveys in Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and
Tamaulipas, and excavations at the important
Paleoindian and Archaic sites of
San Isidro and Cueva de la Zona de Derrumbes.
La Calsada is situated at 2,000 meters
elevation in the montane-mesic-forest
zone of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The
area in modern times is cool and subhumid,
and may have been wetter in prehistoric
times. The rockshelter is along a
narrow ledge at the base of a 50-meter
high limestone cliff.
The excavations documented cultural
deposits in excess of 320 cm in thickness.
The five strata in the rockshelter contained
archaeological materials that date as early
as about 8700-7800 B.C. (in Unit 6, the
lowest strata) to at least A.D. 950-1340 (in
Unit 1-2). Intermediate occupations generally
date as follows: Unit 5 (ca. 73005900
B.C.), Unit 4 (ca. 5400-3200 B.C.),
and Unit 3 (ca. 3110-2990 B.C.). A total of
1,146 artifacts were recovered in Nance's
work at La Calsada, principally chipped
stone projectile points, knives, bifaces, and
unifaces, along with other stone artifacts
(mainly manos and a few quartz crystals),
and three non-stone artifacts (a bone bead,
a mussel shell fragment, and a metal button
from Unit 1-2).
The heart of the book is the descriptions
of the artifact forms and types,
supplemented by discussions of edge-wear
analysis and considerations of intra-site
trends in artifact form and attribute distributions.
Some of Nance's conclusions
are: (1) bifaces become relatively more
frequent through time, with varying proportions
of points, knives, and large bifaces
through the different Unit strata; (2)
unifacial tools become less common
through the sequence, with carefully prepared
plane unifaces in Unit 6 giving way
to spall and flake unifaces in the upper
deposits; (3) non-prepared, worn edges
on tools are most abundant in Units 3 and
4; and (4) lanceolate projectile points
dominate Unit 6 and 5 deposits, along
with indented-base forms in Unit 5, while
stemmed dart heads characterize Unit 3-4.
Small triangular arrowpoints and sidenotched
points are distributed in Unit 1-2.
The tool forms and edge-wear analysis indicate
that a variety of general camping
activities took place at La Calsada, with
significant changes through time in tool
forms, tool sizes, and patterns of use-wear.
Broad, regional comparisons to the archaeology
of La Calsada suggest its similarity
with sites and artifact assemblages from
the Lower Pecos and South Texas regions,
Northeast Mexico, and Central Mexico. It
is only after ca. 3000 B.C. that definite
relationships exist between the occupants
of La Calsada and the cultures of far South
Texas and other parts of Northeast Mexico.
Before that time, the regional archaeology
is poorly known, thus limiting specific
comparisons of cultural relationships and
Nance concludes the book with two
queries and problems regarding "La Calsada
and the Prehistory of Northeast Mexico":
La Calsada and Early Man in Mexico, and
Two Models of Climatic Change for
Northeast Mexico. While hindered by the
paucity of archaeological data from
Northeast Mexico, Nance pulls the site
information together to paint a picture of
long-term but sporadic use of the La
Calsada rockshelter by small bands of
hunter-gatherers (and possibly farmers after
ca. A.D. 950) who used the site for tool
manufacture and food preparation tasks
during increasingly warmer and drier times;
the collection of succulent plant foods
such as agave and sotol became more common
after about 3000 B.C. Hunting seems
to have become more important to the
occupants of La Calsada in Late Prehistoric
"The Archaeology of La Calsada" is a
welcome book on the archaeology of a
significant site in a poorly known region
of Northeast Mexico. It will be useful to
the professional and avocational archaeologist
alike who are interested in understanding
the character of the archaeological
record of South Texas and Northeast
26 HERITAGE * SUMMER 1994
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 1994, periodical, Summer 1994; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45412/m1/26/: accessed August 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.