March 2024

Dear Friends,

We have such a beautiful newsletter for you this month. It includes wonderful news of Karen's cancer recovery. You'll also find a lovely article written by Shumla Board Member, Kelly Timmons, about her time with the Shumla team documenting a Pecos River Style site.

Another site digitally preserved!

Another wondrous mural that, though it will deteriorate, will remain as it is today in Shumla's Archive to be experienced, studied, and revered for generations to come.

Have I mentioned we love our jobs?

Don't forget, there are lots of ways for you to join us. Treks, Lunch and Learns, social media, financial support. We also love our Shumla community.

Thanks for being a part of it.

All the best,


Karen rings the Bell!

Karen had her last chemo this month and rang the bell to signal that her chemo treatment is done!

She’s feeling much better and her prognosis is great. We’re so impressed with her ability to go through this difficult treatment and continue her terrific work at Shumla. Congratulations, Karen!

Notes from an Enthusiastic Volunteer

As my tour guiding partner likes to say, “Kelly, you are an enthusiastic volunteer.” When Shumla preservation archaeologist Diana Radillo Rolón asked me to join them for a rock art documentation excursion I immediately said “Yes!”

I love the Lower Pecos region and the defining rock art. I became hooked as soon as I saw the art over 15 years ago and have only become more engaged with time.

I have been fortunate to volunteer with Shumla a few times over the years. In fact, I am now a member of the Shumla Board of Directors. (Persistent gifts of homemade candy every holiday season may have pushed my name up the list).

This excursion was to be a five-day visit to a ranch with one known rock art site. The site had not been included in the “Alexandria Project”, so Shumla was invited to come and document the site, adding it to the 250+ sites included in the Alexandria Project Archive.

Day One was pack-up and move-out. I drove and David Keim, another Shumla archaeologist, rode with me on the two-hour drive to the ranch. We chatted like old friends setting the tone for a week of gentle conversation, appreciation for life and its mysteries and great admiration for the region and its peoples.

The ranch road was typically rough. It was limestone, crushed rock and steep declines into the canyon where the ranch headquarters and our home would be for the next four days. Shortly, we were escorted to the site by the ranch family to get a feel for the work ahead. Well, the Shumla team did. I was clueless and “happy as a clam” as my wife likes to say.

I loved how enthusiastic the family was about the rock art. They regaled us with two delicious dinners and several visits to the site over the week while we worked. They asked intriguing questions and shared their knowledge of local and Texas history. Two of them were pilots (as was I), so conversation slipped from rock art to flying for a large part of their visits. (All pilots do this all the time.)  

I learned so much watching the Shumla team plan and execute the documentation. I was tasked with drafting the Daily Recorder Notes, noting each action the team took. While there is a lot of work being done there is also a lot of “hurry up and wait.” Lucky for me I am a pro at that after spending 29 years in the military.

I was in my element with Daily Recorder Notes. I had a steep learning curve, however, as I grew to understand that the Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry required taking pictures of every bit of the shelter (“Kelly you are in the picture!” was heard more than once.) Once done, these thousands of pictures are stitched together to make a 3D model of the site (hopefully without any of my body parts included).

I was also tasked to locate any paint or markings on the stone floor. I used my measuring tape app on my phone to document where they were located. As a 65-year-old volunteer, this is as high tech as I get. That is, except for DStretch, the filter app Shumla uses to see paint that isn't visible to the naked eye. At DStretch, I am a self-proclaimed “Queen”.

When there was no photography being done, I was able to look closely at the walls and ceiling and use the DStretch app to unveil paint hidden in the site. I discovered circles and rayed dots beneath a heavy layer of dust. I was again “happy as a clam” and content playing with DStretch for long stretches of time (eye roll). 

We didn't see a lot of wildlife but were up at sunrise watching the dawn come over the canyon walls each morning as we drove to the site. One day heading back we met a rattlesnake slowly crossing the route home. We left it coiled and ready to strike while we sat, safe and secure, inside the pickup. Snake stories ensued, including the time a snake lay between me and my morning coffee…in my house (spoiler alert the snake, my house and I survived).

More pictures were taken using a gimble, a laser and a camera for the gigapan process. For these and for ease of access, Justin, Shumla Facilities Technician, removed tree and shrub limbs within the site. It is amazing what a handheld power saw can do. (You'll be glad to hear we left no human limbs or digits behind.) There was one incident with a tree that will remain a team secret. Luckily, it only left scars on my ego and provided hysterical laughter for the others.

The final documentation process was to look at each panel and make a count of identifiable figures and motifs. To be counted as an anthropomorph, for example, a figure must have specific attributes and a specified number of them visible. This defined process prevents randomness and inconsistencies in the documentation. I was able to spot a couple of figures to include and felt like I earned my Shumla stripes on this trip.

I was sad to leave the site and the ranch. There is an almost visceral pull from this area that draws me back again and again. I am grateful to share in Shumla’s work in this magnificent canvas of canyonlands. The Lower Pecos offered up one more work of art and keeps its silent vigil over the mysteries of the Archaic peoples.

A Shumla Scholars Update

Earlier this month, Dr. Karen Steelman and Comstock seniors prepared for upcoming interactive activities with the Comstock 5th graders. One of the activities will be simulated archaeological excavation. The Scholars conducted experiments using various materials such as dirt, sand, and vermiculite, along with artifact reproductions, to see what will work best to create an excavation experience that is realistic and engaging for 10- and 11-year-olds. The Scholars can't wait to put this into practice with the kids soon!

Trek with Shumla

Experience the wonders of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands this April! Choose from our two weekend Treks or join us for a single day of exploration.

Here's what one of our recent Trekkers had to say:

"Katie is an excellent Trek leader. I found her to be knowledgeable, able to communicate that knowledge, good with kids and adults. She was also very transparent in her thinking about the weather situation and kept us informed."

Check out the remaining Spring Treks! Stay tuned for the upcoming release of our Fall Trek schedule.

Saturday, April 13, 2024 Eagle Cave, Skiles Shelter and Kelley Cave

Sunday, April 14, 2024 Black Cave and Vaquero Shelter

Saturday, April 27, 2024 Crab and Sunburst Shelters

Sunday, April 28, 2024 Painted Shelter

Click for our 2024 Spring  Shumla Treks Schedule

April Lunch & Learn

Over the course of the three years of the Hearthstone Project, the Shumla/Texas State Hearthstone Project team conducted digital microscopy at ten Pecos River Style rock art sites.

In today’s Lunch and Learn, David will start our four-part series on the results of this ambitious project by sharing the results of the microscopy analyses and the unbelievable lengths the painters went to in order to follow the rules of paint sequencing.

Hearthstone Project Results 1 of 4:

The Rule of Paint Sequencing

Presenter: David Keim, M.A.

Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Time: Noon to 1:00 PM Central Time

Platform: Zoom

Click to Register Today!

Ready for More Results?

You've supported us and cheered us on since the beginning of the Hearthstone Project. Now that the rigorous work of gathering the data is done, the meticulous work of analysis and drawing conclusions is in full swing. We can't wait to share what we are learning.

Join us for the Hearthstone Project Results Lunch and Learn Series. In March, Dr. Phil Dering laid the groundwork for the Hearthstone Project and the cultural and environmental context of the world the painters of the Pecos River Style murals inhabited. In April, David will present on Paint Sequencing. Then, in three further parts the results of our various scientific studies will be discussed.

Check out the schedule below and mark your calendar. You can register anytime at

MAY 15

Diana Radillo Rolón, PhD. Shumla

Hearthstone Project Results 2 of 4:

Proof of Composition

In the second of our four-part series on the results of the Hearthstone Project, Diana will share the compositional structure of the murals the team studied. Through the use of Harris Matrix, Diana will show how the murals, and in particular the iconic panel at the south end of Fate Bell Shelter in Seminole Canyon State Park, were woven together in a complex composition that lays the groundwork for the interpretation that will be the topic of the third Hearthstone Project Results Lunch and Learn.


Carolyn Boyd, PhD. – Texas State University

Hearthstone Project Results 3 of 4:

Motif Interpretation

In 2023, Drs. Carolyn Boyd and Phil Dering conducted interviews and collected audio recordings as Indigenous Huichol consultants related Pecos River Style imagery to their own myths and cosmology. In June's Lunch and Learn, Carolyn will share results of the analysis of these indigenous interviews and how they are opening new lines of inquiry and discovery in the interpretation of Pecos River Style murals. You will marvel at how they reveal deeply embedded symbols and concepts in the rock art that endure today in the ancestral knowledge of Indigenous Native America.



Karen Steelman, PhD. Shumla

Hearthstone Project Results 4 of 4:

A Chronology Emerges

Through the Hearthstone Project, Shumla's Archaeological Chemistry Laboratory obtained 60 radiocarbon dates for Pecos River Style pictographs. In the fourth and final Lunch and Learn in our Hearthstone Results series, Karen will reveal and synthesize these dates with the iconographic data, particularly what has been revealed about key motifs like the winged-anthropomorph and single-pole ladder.

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Shumla Archaeological Research & Education Center 

P.O. Box 627, Comstock, TX 78837 | 


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