ResearchUnraveling the Mural’s Mysteries
Through rock art documentation and research, Shumla is unraveling mysteries of the past and preserving irreplaceable legacies for future generations.
Shumla conducts research in one of the most archaeologically rich areas in the world — the Lower Pecos Canyonlands region of southwest Texas, west of Del Rio. One of the oldest, best-preserved records of human habitation on the North American continent can be found in this semi-arid environment. This record dates from the late Pleistocene (ca. 11,000 BP) through European contact.
Shumla’s team of archaeologists, interns, and volunteers conducts intensive documentation of the rock art murals of the Lower Pecos. Applying the internationally acclaimed Shumla Method of Rock Art Documentation, we are preserving the oldest “books” in North America.
Marfa Public Radio’s Nature Notes podcast captures the essence of the rock art and Shumla’s efforts to save it!
Dr. David Whitley
Rock Art Researcher, Council of Directors of the ICOMOS International Rock Art Committee
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The Race to Preserve the Oldest “Books” in North America
The rock art of the Lower Pecos is one of the most incredible rock art traditions in the world. Like a book, each mural was authored and composed to communicate beliefs and ideas. The magnificent depictions of anthropomorphic (human-like) and zoomorphic (animal-like) figures still glow with the subtle ochre tints of the surrounding land, even after 4,000 years. No fewer than 320 rockshelters in the region are known to contain rock art and new sites are discovered yearly.
Unfortunately, the damming of the Rio Grande to create the Amistad Reservoir in 1969 flooded many mural sites and set the stage for widespread flooding and siltation that is threatening to destroy this ancient library of myths and beliefs that has existed for thousands of years.
We are in a race against time to preserve this library before it is gone. Though efforts have been made to preserve the art in place, nothing can reliably stop the destruction of the art by rushing water, animal activity, vandalism and environmental changes. We can, however, document these sites to such a degree that they can be studied forever and even recreated once lost.
Chair, Rock Art Interest Group of the Society for American Archaeology
The Panther Cave Pictograph 3D Modeling Project is a great example of the collaborative work Shumla conducts as part of our ongoing conservation and education efforts in the Lower Pecos River basin. Panther Cave, named after the giant panther at the far end of the site, contains Pecos River and Red Linear style pictographic imagery dating back approximately 4,000 years. The site, situated in Seminole Canyon State Park, is endangered by periodic flooding and is accessible only by boat. The 3D model was part of a documentation project with our partners to digitally preserve the site for future generations.