All posts by Lauren Bussiere

TARL History, Part 2: TARL at Balcones

In last week’s TARL history post, we talked about the early days of UT’s archeological collections. By the 1950s, UT had gathered massive and impressive collections of archeological artifacts and other materials, but these were scattered across various locations including the Anthropology Museum in Pearce Hall, the Texas Memorial Museum, and UT’s Little Campus. As the River Basin Surveys and Texas Archeological Salvage Project added more and more artifacts to the collections, it became clear that the collections needed a new home.

In 1960, the choice was made to begin a new organization, which would become TARL, and the following year, the TMM, TASP, and Department of Anthropology began TARL (then called TARC) as a cooperative venture. Many of the University’s various archeological collections and records were moved to TARL’s new facility at the Balcones Research Center (now the J. J. Pickle Research Campus) in 1962-4. Since those early days, TARL’s mission has remained fairly consistent: to house and protect archeological artifacts and records, to train and educate new researchers, to provide research opportunities, and to disseminate information about archeology.

TARL's first Director, Dee Ann Suhm (later Dee Ann Story), as a student at the UT Kincaid Rockshelter field school in 1953.
Second from left in checked shirt, TARL’s first Director, Dee Ann Suhm (later Dee Ann Story), as a student at the UT Kincaid Rockshelter field school in 1953.

Homegrown archeologist Dee Ann Story was appointed as the first Executive Director of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory in 1963. Story was a UT student and got her early training at some of the most important archeological sites in Texas, including Kincaid Rockshelter. She was one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and ran the archeological laboaratory for the University of Utah while also running excavations in Glen Canyon. Her mentors at UT convinced her to return to Austin, where she was instrumental to the establishment of TARL.

Over the course of her career, Dr. Story contributed some of the most influential publications in Texas archeology, most notably the Handbook of Texas Archeology. She led field schools at the George C. Davis site, the Chupik site, the Loeve-Fox site, and many others throughout the 1970s, working with and training a huge number of Texas archeologists. Dr. Story’s work as TARL director set the tone for our existence and her legacy continues to this day.

Students peruse the TARL collections, 1960s.
Students peruse the TARL collections, 1960s.

Under the Directorship of Dr. Story in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, TARL was a thriving center of learning and independent research. Dr. Story’s many students filled the halls and brought their ideas and knowledge together, documenting the prehistory of Texas. Many of her students went on to become professors or professional archeologists, making their own important contributions to Texas archeology. Dr. Story retired in 1987.

Pioneers in Texas archeology (left to right): Michael Collins, Jerry Epstein, Curtis Tunnell, Jack Hughes, Ernie Lundelius, Ed Jelks, Dee Ann Story, and Glen Evans.
Pioneers in Texas archeology (left to right): Michael Collins, Jerry Epstein, Curtis Tunnell, Jack Hughes, Ernie Lundelius, Ed Jelks, Dee Ann Story, and Glen Evans.

In our next TARL history installment, we’ll look at the late 80’s and 90’s, when a major boom in archeology spurred huge amounts of new research and publication.

Student Spotlight: Lauren Koutlias

Today’s spotlight post is about former TARL intern and current volunteer Lauren Koutlias, who studies bioarchaeology and osteology.

TARL volunteer Lauren Koutlias in the TARL Human Osteology Laboratory
TARL volunteer Lauren Koutlias in the TARL Human Osteology Laboratory

My name is Lauren Koutlias. I am an anthropology major at UT focusing on biological anthropology and archaeology. My internship at TARL started in September of 2015, so I have been helping in the human osteology lab for over a year. My current project at TARL is doing the re-inventory, and ultimately re-analysis, of individuals analyzed using now-outdated forms back in the 1980s.

As an honors student, I also have the privilege of pursuing an honors thesis and original research utilizing TARL skeletal collections. My research focuses on differences in paleopathology rates among juveniles at the Morhiss, Crestmont, and Ernest Witte mortuary sites on the Western Gulf Coastal Plains of Texas and making inferences about diet, including weaning age, and how infectious disease is impacted or exacerbated by nutrition. My supervisor and second reader are Drs. John Kappelman and Maria Wade, respectively.
TARL is not my only internship focusing on human skeletal material. I am also an intern in the eAnthro Projects lab in the Department of Anthropology at UT. Utilizing a NextEngine scanner, ScanStudio Pro, and Blender, I create 3D digital files of skeletal individuals for the new eAnthro project, eForensics.
This past summer, I participated in the Belize Archaeological Field School through UT. I excavated larger structures at La Milpa as well as smaller Maya water conservation sites near La Milpa. I was also able to assist the project osteologist with bioarchaeological excavations of Maya burials, which was an extremely interesting and necessary experience for me and my future!
Finally, I am the current president of the Anthropological Society at UT (AnthroSociety). My goal this semester is to help foster better research relationships between undergraduates and faculty members, specifically sociocultural and linguistics researchers. The AnthroSociety has a history of favoring archaeology and biological anthropology members and professors. We are striving to show all our professors that our undergraduate members are interested in learning about their research. Another goal is to offer more graduate application and writing help for those members  that know they want to pursue graduate school.
I am hoping to continue on full-force into graduate school in fall of 2017. I am most interested in the programs at UC Santa Barbara, Texas State University, and Vanderbilt University. My plans are to continue my research on juvenile osteology and childhood nutritional paleopathology in a graduate context.
P.S. Come check out the Anthropological Society booth at the Texas Archaeology Fair! We’ll be doing an art “rock” wall where you can paint your own rock art and/or anything else you feel is representative of archaeology and anthropology!

Student Spotlight: Alyana Fernandez

Today’s Student Spotlight is an introduction to TARL work-study student Alyana Fernandez, who helps with TARL’s GIS mapping and site assignments. Alyana’s work demonstrates how archeology is an interdisciplinary field that relies on people with a wide range of interests!

TARL work-study student Alyana Fernandez on her visit inside the Inca Temple of the Sun on her Maymester in Ecuador.

My involvement at TARL is as a Sr. Student Associate in the Records department. Working with digital databases such as TexSite, I assist in assigning new site trinomials, as well as searching through existing archaeological site files, in order to document the geographic locations of archeological projects and artifacts throughout all Texas’ counties. Using the program ArcGIS in addition to printed maps of Texas quadrangles from centuries past, I record each site for use.  During my time at TARL, I am gaining additional experience with ArcGIS, USGS topographic maps, and the various files in the TARL Records collection.

I am a geography major and geology minor at the University of Texas at Austin. I am interested in the physical environment; my desire to expand my knowledge of Texas’ environment and gain research experience has lead me to my interest in archaeology. The study of archaeology is very broad and interdisciplinary. What interests me most about it is how you can relate archaeological findings to many other disciplines and discover innumerable  characteristics of the area you are focusing on; including climate, natural resources, etc.

Following graduation next spring, I aspire to find opportunity in a field similar to environmental consulting, surveying, or research. Additionally, I intend on furthering my education by attending graduate school after spending some time in the work force.

Thanks, Alyana! We’re glad to have you on our team!

TARL History: Part 1, The Early Days

Today, the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory houses archeological materials from more than 10,000 sites, including sites from across Texas, in other states, and outside of the U.S. We also care for site records for more than 78,000 archeological sites; our records and collections are a living history of the legacy of Texas archeology.

TARL’s history goes back nearly 100 years. This essay is a brief look at the early years of archeological research in Texas and the collection and curation of archeological materials at UT–before TARL was even in existence.

J. E. Pearce, 1940s.

The birth of UT’s Anthropological Laboratories can be traced back to 1918 when J. E. Pearce, then with the Dept. of History, received $58.10 from the UT Institutional History Fund for an archeological excavation near Austin.  This was the first of many excavations conducted by UT over the following decades. Pearce’s vision of a world-class archeological and ethnographic museum led to the University acquiring its first, and still some of its best, collections.

In addition to fieldwork, Pearce acquired collections through donations, loans, purchases, or exchanges with other individuals and institutions. He contacted high school teachers throughout Texas and inspired them to look in their areas for important sites. With funding from the Smithsonian Institution, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, The University of Texas, and private individuals, Pearce undertook a statewide survey and collections program between 1919 and 1938. His effort resulted in an unparalleled collection of material relating to the history and prehistory of Texas.

early archeology-E.B. sayles-camp near Santa Anna-1932
Early Texas archeologist E. B. Sayles at a camp near Santa Anna, Texas, 1932.

To house this collection, the UT Anthropology department established its Archeology Museum in Pearce Hall in 1932. When the Texas Memorial Museum was created in 1938, with Pearce as its director, many of the archeological collections were moved to its new facility. Other collections were housed at various locations around UT.

UT’s archeological collections continued to grow throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, with many private individuals donating their personal and legacy collections, and massive archeological projects taking place across Texas. Many of TARL’s collections derive from the  Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the period of 1936-1941. WPA projects in Texas, most of which were done under the supervision of the University of Texas, included massive excavations in the central, eastern, and coastal parts of the state, as well as other investigations in west Texas and north Texas.

WPA workers wearing dust masks and carbide headlamps brush the dust off one another after leaving a cave site in west Texas, 1934.

WPA funding ended with the advent of World War II, and archeology in Texas almost came to a complete halt. After the war ended in 1945, the federal government embarked on a massive program to construct dams and reservoirs across the country. In 1947, through a program known as the River Basins Survey (RBS), the National Park Service, assisted by the Smithsonian Institution, established four offices across the country to study archeological sites that would be affected by the construction of dams and reservoirs.

One of these offices was established at the university to pursue an archeological salvage program in the Texas region (Texas Archeological Salvage Project or TASP). From 1947 to 1958, the RBS conducted substantial reconnaissance of twenty-seven reservoirs. Collections from these and other research efforts were housed in various locations at the university. In 1961, these holdings were combined with the UT Museum of Anthropology collections in a cooperative venture of the TASP, the Department of Anthropology, and UT’s Texas Memorial Museum (TMM). In our next TARL history post, we’ll talk about the founding of TARL, the consolidation of UT’s archeological collections, and TARL’s first director, Dee Ann Story.

Special thanks to former TARL Director Darrell Creel, whose past research was the source of the historical facts used in this post.

Volunteer Spotlight: Elizabeth Coggeshall

Today’s Spotlight feature is an introduction to one of our student volunteers.


Elizabeth exploring the Maya site of Lamanai in Belize.

My name is Elizabeth Coggeshall and I am a senior at the University of Texas at Austin. I currently work at TARL as a volunteer, under the supervision of Stacy Drake in the Osteology Lab. Some of the projects I have been pursuing are cataloging the collection of human remains and comparative analysis of the remains.

My background is in Biological Anthropology. I’ve taken various courses, such as human osteology, human evolution, primate evolution, primate behavior and ecology, conservation, and some genetics. Archaeology became one of my interests after I took human osteology and discovered an interest in bioarchaeology and primate morphology. I went to the Belize Field School this past summer and worked in the field with Stacy Drake and Annie Riegert excavating human remains. This archaeological experience confirmed my interest in studying human burials practices and documenting human remains.

After I graduate in spring 2017, I plan on returning to field school and eventually pursuing a Ph.D. in Primatology. My experience working at TARL and in the field has showed me that I love fieldwork, lab work, and working with remains. I hope to be able to study extant primates, use my knowledge of osteology and apply it to their morphology, and continue to work as a bioarchaeologist studying human burials.

Volunteers make so much of TARL’s work possible. Thank you to Elizabeth and all the students and community members who volunteer their time to help us preserve Texas’ archeological resources.

Click here to learn more about volunteering at TARL!

Student Spotlight: Sheldon Smith

As part of TARL’s Texas Archeology Month series, we’re introducing some of our great student workers, interns, and volunteers.


Excavation of structure in Belize. Part the Programme for Belize Archaeological Research Project 2016.

My name is Sheldon Smith and I am currently in my fourth year studying Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin. This semester I have had the amazing opportunity to catalog and study figurines from ancient Mexico as part of my student internship at TARL. As a result, I’ve had the chance to interact closely with many different types of figurines from various sites including places like Teotihuacan. This internship has also vastly increased my knowledge concerning the ceramic technologies and culture of ancient Mexican civilizations, as well as the preservation and collection processes.

I have always enjoyed history, but my interest in Archaeology began when I found various early 20th century artifacts in association with the creek behind my house. When I started taking classes at UT, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to pursue a career in Archaeology. My sophomore year I joined the Anthropological Society, where, over the past three years, I have had the pleasure of interacting with like-minded students from all four subfields, and I am now honored to be their current Vice-President. The Anthropological society also exposed me to many different professors and researchers in the field, and opened my eyes to all of the archaeological opportunities the university has to offer. One such opportunity was when I worked with Dr. Peter Fix on the La Belle restoration project at the Bob Bullock Museum. I learned a great deal about conservation and gained insight into a very important part of Texas history that I previously knew very little about.

At that time, I still did not know exactly what aspect of Archaeology I wanted to focus on. That all changed this past summer, when I attended UT’s Belize Archaeological Field School, as part of the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (PFBAP). There, I finally got to get my hands dirty and excavate at a Maya site named La Milpa. I rediscovered my passion for Archaeology and became very interested in architecture as well as ceramic technologies. I would like to work with these aspects of Archaeology in my future career, and plan on returning to the site next summer as a junior staff member to gain more knowledge about these topics. After I graduate, I plan on taking a year or more off to work in Cultural Resource Management, in order to gain more field experience. Then my plan is to apply to graduate school in order to pursue a Ph.D. in Archaeology. My hope is that I will someday work in Mesoamerica doing what I love, so that I can gain a greater insight into the lives of the people that lived there and preserve their history.

Why protect archaeological sites?

41CE19-C6676_300 Archaeological excavation at the George C. Davis site in Texas.

As archaeologists, many of us tend to assume that others understand the intrinsic value of archaeological sites, and that in general, people want to protect archaeological resources. At the same time, we know there are many sites out there getting looted each day as well as a thriving market in antiquities. In this essay, we take a brief look at the ethics behind preserving archaeological sites, the difference between scientific excavation and looting, and how to talk to non-archaeologists about cultural heritage management.
One important reason to preserve and document archaeological sites is that, in some cases, it’s the law. In Texas, laws prohibit excavation on state land without a permit. Federal land has several statutes that apply to cultural resources including the disturbance of human remains.
Read more about laws that protect sites in Texas.
What about sites not protected by state and federal laws? Sites on private property in Texas can, legally speaking, be excavated by anyone at the discretion of the landowner. So why not dig them up? Isn’t that what archaeologists do?
It sounds disingenuous, but as archaeologists, we actually want to do as little archaeology as possible.
We know that without our intervention, some sites are very vulnerable and can be destroyed either through construction, natural disasters such as floods, or natural processes like erosion. Because archaeological materials are a non-renewable resource (we can’t go back in time to make more sites), we absolutely want to document any sites in danger of being destroyed. Other than those sites in immediate danger, though, archaeologists typically only want to dig at sites that have a strong potential to answer research questions rooted in anthropological theory and fill in the gaps in our understanding of the past. Beyond that, we want sites to be left alone.
Read the Society for American Archaeology’s Principles of Archaeological Ethics
Doing a scientific excavation is costly, time-consuming, and destructive to the site. Responsible archaeologists are keenly aware of the fact that their work does irreparable damage to the site and that they only have one shot to get it right. They also know that, with new analytical techniques being developed at a rapid pace, future researchers may be able to learn much more about the same site–but only if there’s still something left to excavate. For these reasons, modern archaeologists typically try to do as little excavation as is possible to answer their research questions, and they collect as much data as possible from these minimally intrusive excavations.
Non-scientific excavators–looters–do the opposite of this.
To a trained archaeologist, an archaeological site is much more than the artifacts that come out of the ground. Often we are less interested in the potsherds or arrowheads and more interested in the chemistry of the soil, the sequence of construction, or the relationship of one object to another within the excavation. Removing artifacts from their context or digging with the sole purpose of recovering artifacts to collect or sell destroys all of this valuable information forever.
Once an artifact is removed from its archaeological context, its value to archaeological researchers is greatly reduced. While we all love looking at a beautiful artifact, there is much less information to be gained from an item out of context than one recovered with accurate provenience data. This idea seems straightforward, so why is there a persistent trend for folks to focus on the beauty of a few objects and ignore the site and context?
We could blame everyone’s favorite pop-culture archaeologist, who destroys entire temples to steal a single artifact. Or we could look at how we communicate. 
To an archaeologist, it can be disheartening to watch someone’s eyes glaze over when you start to talk about phytoliths or microwear, only to see them perk up at the mention of ancient aliens. The public fascination with sensationalized archaeological ideas comes out of both a long history of sensational archaeology and the way archaeology is taught to the general public. Even up to the mid-twentieth century, archaeology was full of self-aggrandizing explorers on quests to find Atlantis or Mu, and early excavations were often massive, rushed, and focused on finding the most magnificent artifacts. Ever since Schliemann had his wife model the jewels of Troy, the public has had the perception of archaeology as not too far distant from treasure hunting. We can all agree that gorgeous ceramics, painted sarcophagi, and intricate weapons are just more captivating to look at than dirt and debitage.
Museums, as wonderful as they are, sometimes unintentionally contribute to this paradigm.  Although the intent of most archaeology museums is to provide education, they are typically able to do this only through displaying artifacts–you just can’t move an archaeological site into a museum! The best museums provide lots of contextual information, which allows visitors to appreciate the artifacts for much more than their artistic value. When people only have access to archaeology through museums, it is no wonder they focus on the artifacts rather than the sites themselves.
Learn about Barcelona City History Museum–an archaeology museum with only a handful of artifacts on display.
It’s up to archaeologists to meet the public where they are and acknowledge our sensational past. As much as we want to roll our eyes at archaeological conspiracy theories or shoeboxes full of arrowheads, being dismissive even of misguided archaeological interests is counterproductive. We can channel folks’ enthusiasm into productive discussions about preservation, but only by first acknowledging that these artifacts and ideas are, in fact, really neat and fun to think about. We can talk about modern archaeology and resource management by sharing our passion for the “boring” aspects of archaeology–excitement, even about mundane things, can be contagious.
This October for Texas Archaeology Month, archaeological sites, historical sites, and museums across Texas are opening their doors to the public, to engage in exactly this kind of dialogue. Throughout this month, archaeologists across the state will be sharing their expertise and their life’s work with students, families, and anyone who wants to learn. We invite you all to join us as we celebrate archaeology in Texas and beyond.
Plan your visit to archaeological sites, talks, and events today!


If you want to learn more about responsible, scientific archaeology, there are lots of ongoing opportunities to engage with the local archaeological community. Check out the Texas Archaeological Society or a local society, or contact your local university. TARL also has lots of volunteer opportunities available and we’d love to have your help.

Get involved with the Texas Archaeological Society
Volunteer at TARL! 

Reintroducing the Friends of TARL!

After several years of hiatus, TARL is excited and proud to reintroduce the Friends of TARL




Every day, TARL works to protect and document archaeological sites, collections, and historic records. We provide important educational opportunities to students so they can build their future careers. We ensure that millions of artifacts are cared for, that new sites are documented correctly, and that new research can be done.

We need your help!


Membership in the Friends of TARL is a way to show your support for the work we do at TARL, sustain our work through vital financial contributions, and stay connected with what’s new in Texas archaeology. The Friends of TARL Member benefits include:

  • Invitations to TARL events;
  • Discounts on TARL merchandise;
  • Subscription to our new quarterly e-newsletter.

Our goal is to have 100+ new members join during the month of October–Texas Archaeology Month. Join us today!


Join the Friends of TARL today as a Regular Member (one-time gift of $50 or just $4.17 per month for 12 months) or a Pedernales Member (one-time gift of $100 or $8.33 per month for 12 Months).

Sign me up! Regular Membership–Recurring 

Sign me up! Pedernales Membership–Recurring

Special memberships are also available for current Students ($20) and Retirees ($30). Students who join will be eligible for Friends of TARL scholarships. Higher tier memberships are also available; see membership tiers below. Follow the instructions below to sign up as a Student, Retiree, or a higher tier member.

Sign me up! One-Time Gift

Instructions for one-time gifts:

  • Follow the One-Time Payment link above.
  • Ensure that the space labeled “Gift Area” reads “Liberal Arts, College of.”
  • Choose “Texas Archeological Research Laboratory” from the next drop-down menu, labeled “Sub Department.”
  • Enter your desired gift amount. The minimum to become a Regular Member is $50. Student memberships are $20 and Retiree memberships are $30.
  • In the Special Instructions box, please specify if you are a Student or Retiree. If you are a current UT graduate or undergraduate student, please enter your EID. If you are a currently enrolled student at another university, please list your university.
  • Click “Continue” to complete your payment information and submit your membership.
  • Thank you for joining the Friends of TARL!



Announcing the Texas Archeology Month Fair!

TARL is excited to announce that in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission, we’ll be hosting a public Archeology Fair to celebrate this year’s Texas Archeology Month! This exciting event will take place on Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. here at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. Our Fair will feature hands-on activities for kids and adults, demonstrations from experimental archaeologists, and displays that highlight Texas’ rich archeological history.

Fair Details:
Date: October 22, 2016
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Cost: FREE!

The Texas Archeology Month Fair will be held at the main soccer field on the Pickle Research Campus.
See the map below for location & parking details.

The Pickle Research Campus is located in north Austin near the Domain shopping center, just west of MoPac at the corner of Burnet Road and Braker Lane.
The Pickle Research Campus is located in north Austin near the Domain shopping center, just west of MoPac at the corner of Burnet Road and Braker Lane.


Planned booths and activities for the fair include:

  • Mock excavation units
  • Flintknapping (making stone tools)
  • Atlatl throwing
  • Osteology & mock burials
  • Native plants
  • Rock art
  • Fire drilling
  • Ancient foodways
  • Artifact identification
  • Exhibits on various archaeological sites in Texas
  • And much more!

We need volunteers to help this day go smoothly! To volunteer as either an activity leader, table presenter, or general volunteer, please email


Thank you to our event partners:


thc_main_logo                                                            tcasLogo




Llano Uplift Archaeological Society


TARL staff and our community of professional archaeologists love teaching the public about archeology. We are all excited for this fun event!