Back to the Future for Marybeth

by Marybeth Tomka

One of the many wonders of working at TARL again after so many years, is coming across sites and materials that made impacts in my life during my student years.  Since I am just learning the locations of all the collections, I was surprised when I opened a cabinet to look at one collection and found a familiar one right next to it.  Such was my pleasure December 15, 2014.

In 1981 I was a senior looking forward to graduation in May, field school in New Mexico and graduate school in the fall.  I had been working at TARL on my professor’s project for almost a year and having the time of my life.  One of the TARL staff members mentioned that a phone call had come in from the THC and some burials had been disturbed by trenching for a phone cable near Houston. He and another graduate student were going to meet a representative from THC on Saturday and maybe, with the Houston Archaeological Society’s help, there would be a salvage excavation.  Since it was still early on in the semester, I didn’t need to study (yet!) so I asked to go along.

I was going on my first excavation with two graduate students; I thought I was impressive having finished my osteology class in the fall of 1980.  Boy, did I get a lesson in humility.  But what an experience!  I got to excavate a site, work a transit (for you young folk – the forerunner of a total data station where you actually have to know geometry!), and the best part, work alongside experienced avocational and professional archaeologists.  I worked on the site for several weekends in January and February and then again in August when I got back from field school.

I am sure that in the coming days, weeks, months, years ahead, I will find more that has my present intersecting my past life at TARL.



The George C. Davis Site

by Marybeth Tomka

The George C. Davis Site, Dr. Dee Ann Story (photo below), and TARL all resonate with Texas archaeologists. The site was originally recorded by the father of UT archeology, J.E. Pearce and systematically excavated during the Works Progress Administration in 1939-1941. Dr. Story worked on this site through the 1960s and 1970s and it is now administrated by the Texas Historical Commission as a state historic site. Many years of UT student archeologists have had the experience of working with Dr. Story at the Davis Site, located along the El Camino Real where present day Texas Highway 21 runs between the ceremonial mounds. This ceremonial center was utilized between AD 780 and 1260 as determined through the analysis of radiocarbon, but has evidence of earlier Paleo-Indian and Archaic peoples as well.

People living and using what was to become Caddoan Mounds State Historic site grew corn, cultivated or gathered wild plants, and hunted the forests of East Texas for their subsistence. The Caddo at this site were known to have trade networks with bison hunters to the north and west, exchanged materials with the gulf coast and peoples in present day Arkansas. Georgetown flint was traded from central Texas; it is a highly knappable and attractive chert varying from sky blues to very dark grays or blacks. In case you are wondering archaeologists call “flint” chert for reasons that make geologists cringe!

The featured picture accompanying this blog (above) illustrates the Caddo craftsmanship in chipping stone tools, working exotic stones into celts or adzes, and axes, stringing hand-made shell beads as personal adornment, and lastly what sets them apart from all other Native Americans, the elaborately engraved, incised and burnished ceramics in a variety of forms, but most recognizable as the bottle pictured here.  For more information on the Caddo Peoples, including descriptions of their origin stories, languages and ceramic vessels, please visit and explore the Texas Beyond History Caddo Fundamentals website at:

The archeologist who excavated the anthropomorphic figure during his field school many years later married the woman who made of replica of the figure for exhibit?

Dr. Dee Ann Story in 1964.  Dee Ann served as the Director of TARL from 1965-1987.

Dr. Dee Ann Story in 1964. Dr. Story served as the Director of TARL from 1965-1987.







Introducing TARL’s Current Student Contributor:  Debora Trein

by Debora Trein

I am originally from Brazil, and I was interested in the human past from an early age, an interest that manifested itself with a fascination with ancient mythology! I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study archaeology at University College London (UCL) in the UK, where I achieved a Bachelor’s degree in archaeology followed by a Master’s degree in archaeology in 2006. In 2008, I entered the graduate program at the Department of Anthropology at UT Austin, and I am planning to defend my doctoral dissertation in 2015.

I have over 10 years of fieldwork experience, working in archaeological sites in the UK, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and Texas, leading and participating in a variety of projects, which included many archaeology fieldschools as well as excavation- and conservation-driven research. Since 2007, I have conducted research with the UT Austin-administered Programme for Belize Archaeology Project, one of the largest archaeological fieldschools in Mesoamerica, serving as assistant project director since the 2014 field season.

The projects that I am personally involved in entail the digitization and organization of some of TARL’s many collections of archaeological material and document. I have aided in the creation and compilation of a TARL “Loans” database, which records all loans coming to and from TARL from 1930s to the present. These loans may involve archaeological material, photographs, maps, slides, reproductions, and reports, information that is documented in the digital database. I am also analyzing the lending and borrowing practices of TARL through time, charting the changing relationships between TARL and borrowing institutions such as museums, private individuals, companies, and academic researchers. The reasons for loans, which may have included academic research, reporting, and educational events such as conferences and school talks, for instance, are also recorded. By managing the loan data in this way, we will be able to determine what parts of the collections and library are accessed the most, and by whom. Moreover, we will also identify which relationships between TARL and external agencies may be strengthened through a more robust material borrowing and exchange program, a strategy that will be made possible through TARL’s continuing commitment to greater accessibility.

Currently, I am in the later stages of a project that entails the complete assessment of all dental material in all of TARL human remains collection. This kind of comprehensive evaluation has never been undertaken on a digital platform at TARL, and it will provide an invaluable resource in locating and quantifying human remains under TARL’s stewardship. Moreover, the level of qualitative detail contained in this database will include information such as the number and type of teeth in good preservation state, information useful to potential researchers wishing to examine ancient population dynamics in Texas.

I am working towards my “black sash” in Choy Li Fut Kung Fu.

Debora Trein conducting excavation during a field season.
Debora Trein excavating during a field season.




Introducing TARL’s Head of Collections: Marybeth Tomka

We are pleased to announce that Marybeth Tomka joined the staff of the TARL in July 2014 as the Head of Collections.  Marybeth received her BA and MA from UT-Austin, and feels like she has come home to TARL.  Marybeth has over 30 years of professional experience in the field of cultural resource management. She has experience working in both the private and public sector, has completed analyses of lithic and ceramic materials, made contributions to archaeological reports, participated as the supervisor of archaeological lab and field crews, and served as a project manager while in the private sector.

She spent six years with TRC, six years with TPWD, and as a work study and later employee at TARL’s former contracting arm.  She comes to us from the Center for Archaeological Research (CAR) staff where from July 2000-July 2014, Marybeth served in two major roles as the laboratory director for contract projects and as curator.  She was the driving force to CAR’s 2006 acknowledgement as a THC certified repository coming as only the second institution to be certified.  She also served as the technical lead for outreach field schools work with community volunteers at the National Park Service’s Spanish Colonial site of Rancho de Las Cabras in Wilson County from 2007 through 2012 and taught UTSA’s field in 2008 and 2010. As an undergraduate, and then graduate student, Marybeth was a lab technician for the WS Ranch Project of the Anthropology Department under Jim Neely, and as a teacher’s assistant and area supervisor for the University of Texas (Austin) field school as part of her Master’s thesis research. Her research focused on the great kiva complex.

Marybeth’s interests are focused in the management of archaeological records and collections within the context of state and federal laws and sound museum practice. This interest as well as database administration, led her to pursue additional training and in June 2012, she received her Professional Certification in Collections Management from the University of Victoria (UVic).

Already somewhat versed in TARL’s massive collections, Marybeth is happily pursuing taking TARL into the 21st century with planned projects in collections care, collections management, and database construction management.  She will also be actively recruiting volunteers as we move forward.

Follow the blog and/or subscribe to the Friends of TARL Newsletter to keep track of Marybeth’s projects, her discoveries in TARL’s collections and her own blog entries as she gathers the reins and guides TARL’s collections along an exciting trajectory into the future.


The artifact featured above in this post is made of shell.  Per Susan Dial, Editor and Project Manager of Texas Beyond History, this artifact is an:

“Engraved conch shell gorget with triskele design, ca. AD 1400. Excavated by the University of Texas in 1938 from the Mitchell locality (site 41BW4) in the Upper Nasoni Caddo village on Red River, Bowie County, Texas. Specimen 41BW4 (6-2-56); width 11 cm. To learn more about the Hatchell-Mitchell site, see the Nasoni exhibit at”



Greetings From TARL 2.0

Hello and welcome to the TARL blog!

Here at the Texas Archeological Research Lab we underwent some new and important changes over the course of 2014.  A new Director, a new Head of Collections, a new position created for a NAGPRA Specialist and a new sense of commitment to making the archeological collections and associated records available to the university and academic communities, CRM firms and various government entities.  Combining new staff, ideas and collections management approaches with the dedicated existing staff, organizational history and long standing position within Texas archeology as a center for research, TARL is moving forward into an exciting new era as an eminent steward of Texas history.  The purpose of this blog is to invite the public along with us on this ‘re-commitment’ as we undertake and encourage collections-based projects that will deepen our understanding of the cultural, historical and biological origins of our shared past.  We will post information about current and ongoing projects here, provide updates about their progress, introduce you to our staff and students, and give you insight into the deep time and broad cultural landscapes represented in the vast collections curated at TARL.  Being that blogs are inherently informal and more conversational, for more thorough information about any of the topics you read about here you should visit our organizational website,, and also the comprehensive educational website Texas Beyond History at  The staff here at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory is extremely passionate about Texas archeology, making TARL’s collections available for research, and working with students and the public to expand their understanding of how the collections we steward here inform our understanding of the past, present and future.  We look forward to sharing that knowledge and passion with you!

Kerri Wilhelm