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An array of artifacts
photo of knotted cords
Knotted cording, such as this, once held clumps of split feathers in each knot, creating a sort of "plumed boa" perhaps worn during ceremonies. Some of the cordage has been dyed red with ocher (Burial 4).
photo of yucca basket
A large coiled basket constructed with narrow leaf yucca leaves has a thin coating of clay on the interior and was probably used for parching seeds. It was inverted over two infant burials in two grass bags (Burials 2 and 3).
photo of grass bag
A twined grass bag which contained a child (Burial 4). These distinctive bags, found only in two other Rustler Hills sites, were used for a variety of functions.
photo of rhythm stick
A notched rhythm stick (left) and the sounding stick used to play it.
photo of ceramic jar
A Mata Red-on Brown Textured jar was ceremonially "killed" and the sherds arranged over a coiled, parching basket that was inverted over two infant burials (Burials 2 and 3).
photo of limonite cone
This limonite cone with a small opening at the top and the rhythm stick (described above) were placed near an adult male burial (Burial 6) and may have served a ceremonial purpose.
photo of rattlesnake rattle
This rattle was made by securing the tail of a rattlesnake onto a stick with sinew and attaching 26 more rattlers (Burial 1). In the center are three rattlesnake fangs and the skin from the lower jaw of a snake, probably a rattlesnake. Click to enlarge.
photo of deer-hoof tinklers
Deer-hoof tinklers found with a child burial (Burial 1).


Archeologists uncovered a fascinating array of artifacts in Granado Cave, including intricate perishable items woven of plant fibers, chipped stone tools, and pottery. These materials, some mundane, others perhaps related to ceremonies and rituals—including burials— tell of a skilled, industrious, and caring people who were well-adapted to the harsh terrain and who knew how to make the most of the comparatively scant resources. Conservative hunter-gatherers, they used reliable materials and established construction techniques that had been tried and proven over centuries of use.

In the section below, we present a gallery of representative artifacts. Some, such as fiber sandals and the distinctive carrying baskets known as kiâhâs, were so well preserved that they could be interpretively reconstructed to learn more about the technology (see Reconstructing Sandals and Reconstructing a Kiâhâ sections).

Cordage and Cotton

The procurement of materials for producing cordage, the processing of the fiber, and the twisting of the fiber into one, two or even three plies, must have been one of the most time-consuming tasks among the inhabitants of Granado Cave. Large quantities of cordage were needed to make the carrying baskets, mats, bags and other objects recovered from the site. The cordage was typically manufactured from narrow-leaf yucca fibers, although some is made from agave fiber or cotton. The fiber from yucca can be extracted by pulling the leaves from the plant and then scraping them, or by steaming or boiling them.

The presence of cotton cordage is interesting since cotton was not grown locally. It is one indication of trade and other contacts with agriculturalists to the north, west, or southwest. On the basis of other trade items found at Granado—pottery and shells—the source of the cotton is most likely either the villages to the west on the Rio Grande or in northern Chihuahua. The radiocarbon dates associated with the cotton artifacts are the earliest dates for cotton in Texas.


Basketry from Granado Cave shows influence of traits from the Pueblo areas to the north, the various groups around El Paso, and other hunting and gathering groups from the region. However, some techniques may be unique to the Rustler Hills. Two cord-mesh carrying baskets, known as kiâhâs, and several coiled parching basket fragments were recovered. The latter types had a thin layer of fine mud/clay to keep the surface from charring when parching seeds.

In order to better understand the process of their construction, a small kiâhâ was reconstructed.

Matting, Bags and Sandals

Fragments of matting, woven sandals, whole burial bags, and other plaited and twined items were recovered from the cave. They are comparable in terms of materials and construction techniques to those from other areas of the Trans-Pecos region and the Southwest in general. An important exception is the distinctive "Rustler Hills Twined Grass Bag," a type found as yet only in three caves: Caldwell Shelter No. 1, Brooks Cave, and Granado Cave. Made of twined coils of retted fiber, the bags had many uses ranging from seed storage, to carrying pouches, to burial containers.

Wood Artifacts

There is a general lack of wood artifacts from the excavated cave sites of the Rustler Hills. The most common wood artifacts found in the area are throwing sticks, commonly called "rabbit sticks." Cane arrows with wooden foreshafts, and decorated split agave flower stalks have also been recovered. At Granado Cave, broken rabbit sticks were the most common wood artifacts recovered. A notched rhythm stick and its sounding stick were also found, as well as broken arrows shafts.


There is no evidence that pottery was produced in the Rustler Hills. The small quantities found in the area are of types originating in the Casas Grandes area, located to the southwest; in the agricultural villages around El Paso to the west; and the Pueblo groups to the north. The source of the more common brown ware type is more difficult to determine, but is known to have been made both in the scattered pithouse villages of Southeast New Mexico and the adjacent area of Texas. One Mata Red-on-Brown Textured jar and 21 sherds were recovered from the excavations at Granado Cave. The jar was covered with soot, showing that it was used for cooking. It had been repaired with cordage and resin-coated grass patches several times.


The chipped stone assemblage recovered from Granado Cave was sorted and classified on the basis of the reduction technology displayed by each artifact. The collection was very meager and included water worn nodules; cores; flake tools; modified flakes; utilized sequent flakes; chert agave/sotol knives; utilized flakes; unifaces; drills/perforators; along with a few arrow points, dart points, and bifaces. The finding of agave/sotol knives attests to the importance of plant processing at the site, as evidenced also by the three earth ovens (circular burned rock middens) found near the front of the cave.

Other Artifacts

Other recovered items include a number of possible ceremonial items, such as an unusual cone made of limonite, two unfired red clay balls, a rattlesnake-rattler rattle, and a deer-hoof tinkler. Several of these items are unique to Granado Cave, and their function is not understood.

Numerous pieces of tanned skin showing unusual skinning techniques that left the skin tubular were also found; they were probably tanned with a paste made of brain tissue. A unique bird-head skin is believed to be from a waterfowl, possibly a goose.

Only four bone tools were present in Granado Cave, three of which were placed with Burial 1. In addition to two bone awls, a weaving tool made from a deer rib was identified.

Beads made from shell or plant seeds were found in association with four of the burials. The shells were from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California, reflecting the extent of trade networks. At least 35 feather quills were found in association with Burial 1.

A single piece of desiccated fruit was identified using an X-ray, which revealed seeds consistent with the fleshy capsules of Torrey yucca. Such capsules are known to have been consumed for food. A bottle gourd stained dark red with hematite was also recovered.

photo of points
Chipped stone weaponry of the Rustler Hills peoples. Top, dart points; bottom, arrow points.

Click images to enlarge  

photo of corded yucca
This yucca cordage still contains pieces of split feathers held in the knots (Burial 4). Click to enlarge.
photo of large carrying basket
A large carrying basket found ceremonially "killed" over Burial 1.
photo of yucca sandals
Bottom and top surfaces of two Yucca elata sandals worn by a child. Click to see full image.
photo of cane arrows
Arrows found in the cave. Top to bottom, a wooden foreshaft, two cane arrows with sharpened foreshafts, cane arrow with nock formed by a hardwood plug inserted in the cane, and remnants of three-feather fletching, all secured with sinew. Click to enlarge.
photo of rabbit sticks
Broken rabbit sticks found near Burial 6.
drawing of ceramic jar
The jar is decorated with a red band and a white wash on the vertical corrugation of the neck, and 19 red triangles, two Chupicuaro diamonds and an engraved design on the body.
photo of deerskin
This tanned deerskin was wrapped around the body of a child (Burial 1).
photo of bird-head skin
This bird-head skin was also found with Burial 1.
photo of bone awls
Bone awls made from deer metapodials were probably used to make coiled baskets (Burial 1).