Heritage, Volume 10, Number 2, Spring 1992 Page: 19
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ets. The method works on the principle
that "you are what you eat"; the chemistry
of your body tissues will be proportional
to the foods you eat. Because lechuguilla,
prickly pear, and yucca have
different chemical signatures than most
other food plants in the region, it is possible
to measure their contribution to an
individual's lifetime diet. The analysis of
two populations dating between 3,0002,000
years ago from Conejo Shelter and
Skyline Shelter indicate these three plants
provided more than 50 percent of the
dietary intake. While this technique is
new and the results preliminary, the
findings support the results of the other
The Lower Pecos region, by virtue of
its well-preserved sites, has presented archaeologists
with a watershed of palaeodietary
information. Through the use of
several analytical methods that serve as
cross-checks on each other, a clearer picture
of these desert hunter-gatherers has
been presented. With an accurate assessment
of diet, archaeologists have a
good base from which to pursue other
questions of human ecology. One such
issue is seasonal mobility. The high mobility
of hunter-gatherers allowed them
to schedule movements with the appearance
of new resources across their territory.
From the examination of fossil pollen
from coprolites, it appears that the
rockshelters were occupied from late
spring through early fall. Unfortunately,
the pattern for the remainder of the year,
spent away from the lower canyons, is not
preserved. Only continued research will
allow archaeologists to eventually piece
together the full extent of their annual
This future research will be possible
only as long as sites remain. The Lower
Pecos, with its typical excellent preservation
of cultural remains, has been a prime
target for looters through the past decades.
As we near the end of the 20th century,
the call for the preservation of our
environment is no longer a minority position.
In this spirit of preservation, we
should seek to include the remains of
those cultures that were part of the environment
we inherited, and that we will
hopefully pass on to future generations.
The Prehistoric Diet
Coprolites (from the Greek copros [dung] and lihos [stone]), or desiccated
human feces, are perhaps the most humble of all artifacts recovered from
archaeological sites. Because their preservation is uncommon in sites other
than caves and rockshelters in arid regions, they provide a rare and unique
form ofpalaeodietary information. Texas A&M University is the leading the
way in this field of study. Under the direction of Dr. Vaughn M. Bryant Jr.,
professor and head of the anthropology department, several students have
produced theses and dissertations based on the analysis of coprolites.
From these remains of actual meals, a day's dietary intake can be identified.
Coprolites can also offer information on prehistoric disease, parasites, human
behavior, and seasonality of site occupation. To provide an illustration of
representative Lower Pecos daily diets, the major constituents of six coprolites
are presented below:
The Prehistoric Menu
* From late archaic levels of the Conejo Shelter (Two coprolites
dated to the period 1,900 to 2,000 years ago) Coprolite #18 contained
more than 60 percent prickly pear fiber, between 10 and 15 percent of
both onion and lechuguilla fiber, and about 2 percent fish and reptile
scales by weight. Coprolite #17 was 80 percent fur and 2 percent rabbit
bone with prickly pear and lechuguilla fiber representing 7 and 4
* Coprolites from two slightly younger archaic levels at Conejo
Shelter date between 1,800 and 1,700 years ago. The older of the two
was 35 percent prickly pear fiber and 10 to 20 percent each of onions,
lechuguilla, and tree bark. The meat portion of the diet was represented
by roughly 15 percent grasshoppers and 3 percent small mammal
bone. From the second archaeic level, a vegetarian day was identified
by a coprolite comprised of 80 percent fiber and 2 percent seeds from
the prickly pear cactus. Onion and yucca fiber comprised the rest of this
* Dating a bit older than 1,000 years old, two coprolites from Baker
Cave detail human diet in the Devil's River canyons. Coprolite #9
indicated a high meat intake with bird feathers, fur, and bones from at
least four rodent species comprising some 85 percent of the weight. The
remaining percentage was predominantly yucca fiber with a small
amount of mustard seeds. Coprolite #12 contained about 40 percent
prickly pear fiber, with 40 percent fur, and 15 percent from fish bones
and scales. A fragment of snail shell was also found in this coprolite.
HERITAGE * SPRING 1992
Jeff Huebner is a staff archaeologist with the
Texas Archeological Research Laboratory.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 10, Number 2, Spring 1992, periodical, Spring 1992; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45420/m1/19/: accessed January 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.