A poster exhibit presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Seattle WA, March 26 1998. Presenter, D. Chrisman.
Pendejo Cave sits in a mid-Permian limestone cliff overlooking Rough Canyon and the dry beds of glacial lakes that attracted herds of now-extinct elephants, bison, horses, and camels. It is 48 km south of Alamogordo, New Mexico; about 16 km to the northeast is the southern end of the Sacramento Mountains, which was the furthest southern extent of the last Wisconsin glaciation. The north-facing cave is dry and was formed by earth movement rather than stream action. The cave is 13 m deep north-south, 6 m wide, and about 8 m high. Before excavation, about 2.5 m of dry deposits covered the floor in the center of the cave. Twenty-two extremely well-defined strata were uncovered within the cave, and they yielded 72 radiocarbon dates on charcoal, wood, and other botanical remains, 60 of these determinations being in the pre-Clovis period (earlier than 11,500 years BP). Accelerator testing of the zone C2 hair, very probably human (per lateral view), yielded two radiocarbon dates--12,370 ± 80 years BP(UCR3276A) and 12,240 ± 70 years BP (UCR3276B).
Under the auspices of the Fort Bliss Environmental Management Office headed by Glenn DeGarmo, excavation of the cave was carried out between 1990 and 1993. During excavation, the materials recovered were submitted to analysis by a variety of interdisciplinary scientists whose studies on the geology, climatology, paleontology, botany, palynology, and dating are being prepared for a forthcoming report on the site and its environment. Among the artifacts and features found during excavation were a number very suggestive of human occupation; these included hearths, clay-lined pits, cordage, animal bones with evidence of modification (probably by humans), and many possible crude stone tools, about half of them made from minerals foreign to the cave. More direct evidence of human occupation was signaled by human friction skin imprints (fingers and palms) on river clay brought up to the cliff cave and packed into pits which were hardened by fire (Chrisman, Donald, Richard S. MacNeish, Jamshed Mavahwalla and Howard Savage, 1996, Late Pleistocene Human Friction Skin Prints from Pendejo Cave, N.M., American Antiquity 61 (2):357-376) and by discovery of forensically human hair found in zones 19.2 and 12.4 thousands year old.
From among many probable artifacts from pre-Clovis zones of Pendejo Cave, we selected 6 specimens showing evidence of human modification of animal bones. These indicate manufacture of bone tools and ornaments and marrowing. They come from well-defined and dated layers, ranging from ca 13,000 to 50,000 YBP. Included are a pendant, an awl-knife and a serrated knife, all showing incised or ground grooves. Of three broken bones-one was probably caused by a worked stone wedge; another by impact of a tool or spear point whose broken tip remains stuck; and a bison humerus which was broken, marrowed, then retouched. Techniques used include stereolithography and 3D groove reconstruction.