TARL wants to say a huge thank you to staff writer Michael Barnes of the Austin-American Statesman, who wrote a wonderful piece highlighting our history and collections for our local paper.
Anyone interested in seeing artifacts from TARL’s collections should check out current exhibits at the LBJ Museum, the Witte Museum, and the Texas State History Museum. TARL is not open for public tours; due to the fragile and irreplaceable nature of our collections, access is restricted to credentialed researchers only. But, we do offer various events and volunteer opportunities throughout the year!
Folks interested in getting involved with TARL can follow us on Facebook. Our Facebook page also has a link to sign up for our email list, which we use to send out news about events and research.
Additionally, everyone interested in archeology, history, or science in general should come out to the 2017 Texas Archeology Month Fair, which will take place October 14 here at TARL. The Fair is a collaborative event between TARL, the Texas Historical Commission, and other local agencies, and will feature fun and educational activities for kids and adults.
As part of our efforts to engage students and community members in Texas archeology, TARL tries to offer learning opportunities for our interns and volunteers outside of the lab. This week, we brought a great group of students and volunteers to the Gault site in southern Bell County.
The Gault site (41BL323) first caught the attention of archeologists over 100 years ago. Although some parts of the site were damaged by looting and pay-to-dig operations throughout the 20th century, more recent scientific excavations have uncovered massive, intact Clovis deposits dating as far back as 13,500 BCE and even evidence for older-than-Clovis habitation at the site. No new excavations are going on at Gault right now–the project staff have lots of data to write up and publish before opening up new excavations–but our excellent tour guide, Dr. Tom Williams, was able to show us previous excavation areas and teach us a ton about the site.
As much as we love looking at artifacts in the lab, it’s important to get out and see the sites themselves, so that we can gain a deeper understanding of the role of the landscape in prehistoric lifeways. At the Gault site, our group was able to see how a location like this one is an ideal spot for habitation: it’s close to water and on the border of different ecological zones, meaning that many different types of resources are available nearby. We also got to try our hand at throwing darts using an atlatl, just as Paleoindian hunters may have done!
Another fascinating part of our visit was learning about the various hypotheses for the early peopling of the Americas, and how research at Gault is contributing to our understanding of the earliest inhabitants of our continent. Increasingly, evidence is suggesting that the people all over North America and beyond who used Clovis tool technology were not the first immigrants to these areas. We look forward to seeing all the exciting research coming out of the Gault site!
Thank you to Dr. Tom Williams of the Gault School of Archeological Research for sharing all your time, effort, and expertise–you made this a trip to remember!
NAGPRA, the law that protects human remains and associated artifacts, applies to human burials or remains that can be confidently affiliated with a modern, federally-recognized Native American group. What do archeologists do, though, when remains are found to date back many thousands of years in the past?
TARL Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka was featured in this article In the Summer 2017 issue of American Archaeology. Read the full PDF:
Elton R. Prewitt is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article is part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter.
The current work at the site of Infierno Village in Val Verde county is a continuation of that begun by Dave Dibble and a crew of volunteers, myself included, in 1974 through 1976. At that time, Dibble identified three areas where clusters of circularor semi-circular stone alignments were present, ostensibly representing the locations of prehistoric wikiup-style structures. After laying out a large survey grid, the team identified about 75 to 80 stone alignments, establishing the basic shape and size of the village. It stretches roughly 800m NNE to SSW, and reaches widths of 150m–unique in this area and potentially extremely significant for understanding prehistoric lifeways. A few selected artifacts were collected during this survey, and included a small number of untyped arrow points and end scrapers, and a couple of brownware potsherds. Occasional burned rocks and small thermal features were noted in the survey.
Work at Infierno stopped until 1999, when another crew of volunteers and I began re-mapping the stone features with the assistance of a total station. Between 1999 and 2001, we took transit readings near the center of each identified stone alignment in addition to topographic readings. For ease of reference, the three groups of stone alignments identified by Dibble were formally designated as the North, Middle, and South clusters. Scale drawings were made of six of the stone alignments. As in the 1970s, we stopped work at the site after access was denied.
After a number of casual visits in the interim, I again resumed work at Infierno Village in 2016 with assistance from a few select volunteers. The original grid points were relocated and readings were taken at each using a hand-held GPS unit. GPS readings were also taken near the center of as many of the stone alignments and thermal features as could be located. Volunteers Dave Gage and Mark Willis took digital images of the site and many of its features using drones and hand-held cameras. This was followed by collection of high-resolution drone imagery in December 2016. Work done by Willis and by Sandy Hannum has allowed us to combine the original grid, the drone imagery, GPS data, and Google Earth layers into a precise, layered map of all the known features of the site, with the majority of the features clearly or partly visible.
In sum, 150 stone alignment features at Infierno Village have been verified by visual means using the drone imagery overlain on Google Earth. Another 66 potential stone features await revisit and verification. Analysis of the drone imagery allowed us to identify 28 visible possible stone features that were not included in the 216 locations identified in person by our teams at the site.
Further study of Infierno Village has potential to greatly deepen our understanding of local populations’ movement on the landscape in prehistoric times, as well as methods for resource procurement and social cohesion. I suspect that the site was used over a very long period of time, from the Late Prehistoric back into the Archaic period and perhaps even earlier. Building this precise map of the many features at the site is just the first step to investigating the long history of occupation at Infierno Village.
Laura Cruzada, Lee Reissig, and Marisol Espino are guest authors from the Texas Department of Transportation’s public archeology outreach program. This article is part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter.
On June 19th, 1865, the news that slaves were free finally reached Texas. Every year, communities gather to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in Texas. This Juneteenth, we highlight an exceptional story of freedom that is featured on Texas Beyond History.
Through archeological investigations, you can read about Duval, the once thriving community of freed African-American slaves. This community was located in what is now the interchange of Loop 1 and Parmer Lane in north Austin. When a highway extension was planned near the interchange in the 1980s, TxDOT archeologists utilized old maps, records, and an aerial photo from 1937 to identify the location of a historic farmstead.
In Duval, freed slaves Rubin and Elizabeth Hancock purchased farmland where they raised their five children. Elizabeth and Rubin Hancock were both born into slavery in the 1840s in Tennessee and Alabama, respectively. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Hancocks, along with Rubin’s three brothers, all belonged to Judge John Hancock, a unionist who fiercely opposed secession despite his reliance on slave labor. Judge Hancock was even removed from office after being elected to the state legislature in 1860 for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Rubin and his three brothers bought land north of Austin, possibly with the help of Judge Hancock. It was here that Elizabeth and Rubin established a productive community of African-American farmers complete with a church and school for their children. According to family members, Elizabeth and Rubin’s home was made of lumber, with two rooms under the main roof and a separate addition which contained the kitchen. Rubin’s granddaughter, Mable Walker Newton, remembers the two main rooms having large glass windows and wooden shutters. Water was hauled in from a well, cooking was done on a cast iron stove, and kerosene lanterns illuminated the log cabin. The family raised cows and pigs, grew cotton, and harvested a large garden. With the help of the A&NW railroad, beginning in 1881, surplus was transported and sold to local store owners in Austin.
The addition of the A&NW railroad also brought new families. The growing community came together at St. Stephen’s Missionary Baptist Church, where in addition to worship and other social gatherings, classes were taught. In the evenings, large social gatherings with neighbors, friends, and relatives could be expected. The children would find entertainment with marbles, baseball, and homemade cardboard dominoes. All of this was confirmed through intensive investigations and research, now available to the public on Texas Beyond History. The families of Duval achieved a level of success that most people of their time – African-American and Whites alike – did not. The Hancock brothers in particular were landowners and each worked their own farms. The brothers were all registered to vote, and each married and raised a family. While Elizabeth Hancock passed away in 1899, Rubin continued live and work on the farm into his sixties until his death in 1916. The Hancocks’ descendants continue to live in the Austin area today. Rubin’s three surviving children kept the farm until 1942 when the house was removed from the site.
By the time that TxDOT archeologists arrived to investigate the area, all that remained on the surface was a well, a chimney hearth, and sections of a fence and stone wall. Excavations at the farmstead revealed possible stone piers of the house, trash areas, along with scatters of artifacts. The 9,000+ artifacts provided archeologists with an idea of the farmstead layout and an insight in to day-to-day life on the farm. Excavated marbles show what sorts of games children enjoyed playing. Recovered items such as combs and buttons provide a visual of the local trends. A canine burial even lets it be known that people in Duval loved their furry companions just as much as modern Austinites. In addition to cultural remains, oral histories and archival information was gathered to better visualize the Hancock family and farm.
As TxDOT continues to work and build a safe and reliable transportation system, the Cultural Resources Management (CRM) program considers the impact of projects on archeological resources and historic properties like the Rubin Hancock Farmstead– resources we know can be important to communities across the state.
Dr. Tim Perttula and Drew Sitters are visiting researchers at TARL. This article is part of the June 2017 TARL newsletter.
The Snipes site (41CS8) is a multi-component prehistoric site on the Sulphur River in Cass County, Texas (Figure 1). The site was found and investigated as part of a River Basin Survey project done in 1952 directed by Edward B. Jelks (1961). We recently had the opportunity to take another look at the collections from the site (held by TARL) to better understand the native history of the site, and to clarify the character of the material culture remains that are associated with the different periods of use at the Snipes site since the Late Paleoindian period.
The main feature of the Snipes site is a cemetery with nine burials; two of the burial features had multiple individuals (two or three persons). The burials had been placed in pits in either flexed or extended positions. Funerary offerings with the burials included a few grog-tempered ceramic vessels, including one Coles Creek Incised, var. Stoner bowl (Figure 2a-b) dating from ca. A.D. 550-700 (Brown 1998:8, 53) and several small plain bowls and jars of the Williams Plain type, as well as lithic artifacts (primarily pieces of lithic debris) in Burial 1 (Jelks 1961:44). These funerary offerings indicate that the cemetery was used almost exclusively during the Late Woodland period. There is one ancestral Caddo vessel from a burial excavated by I. B. Price at the Snipes site that may be associated with the Early Caddo period use of the site.
The lithic and/or ceramic artifacts recovered in the burial features as well as habitation contexts at the Snipes site indicate a very limited use of the site during the Late Paleoindian and Late Archaic periods, based on finds of a single possible Plainview lanceolate and late Archaic Wells and Yarbrough types. The principal occupation of the site took place from ca. A.D. 400-800 by a Fourche Maline culture group, and is marked by Gary, var. Camden dart points, ca. A.D. 700-800 arrow points (Friley and Steiner types), grog-, grog-bone-, and bone-tempered Williams Plain and Cooper Boneware sherds and vessels, and Coles Creek Incised, var. Stoner and var. Ely vessels and/or sherds.
There were also ancestral Caddo settlements at the Snipes site. The first dates from ca. A.D. 800-1200, in the Formative and Early Caddo periods. The ceramics from this component include sherds from Davis Incised, Dunkin Incised, Kiam Incised, Crockett Curvilinear Incised, Pennington Punctated-Incised, and Holly Fine Engraved/ Spiro Engraved vessels; one Alba arrow point is part of this component. A single Haley Engraved sherd indicates a very limited use of the site by Caddo peoples between ca. A.D. 1200-1400. The last use of the Snipes site by ancestral Caddo peoples took place after ca. A.D. 1500, and this component is associated with the Texarkana phase, defined on the basis of sites in both the Red River and lower Sulphur River basins. This component includes sherds from Barkman Engraved, Cass Appliqued, Keno Trailed, Simms Engraved, and Pease Brushed-Incised vessels as well as a single Maud arrow point.
Brown, I. W.
1998 Decorated Pottery of the Lower Mississippi Valley: A Sorting Manual. Mississippi Archaeological Association and Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.
Jelks, E. B.
1961 Excavations at Texarkana Reservoir, Sulphur River, Texas. River Basin Surveys Papers No. 21, Bureau of Ethnology Bulletin 179. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Bryon Schroeder is a Research Associate at the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross University. This article is a part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter.
Spirit Eye (41PS25) is a prehistorically occupied cave system located in Presidio County, Texas just north of the Chinati Mountains (Fig. 1). The cave system is situated on the lowest level of a North/South trending limestone cliff. Access is possible via two entrances, lower and upper entrances that lead to a central U-shaped main chamber that connects with a smaller internal horizontal and vertical shaft system. Extensive prehistoric use of the cave is evident on the well-developed cultural talus deposit laden with thousands of pieces of debitage, various ground and chipped stone tools, and a distinct black anthropogenic soil. There are also historic food and beverage containers on this talus slope, remnants of years of looting into the rich and well-preserved prehistoric deposits.
The deposits within Spirit Eye are not pristine. Evidence of looting is clear: outside both entrances mounds almost three meters tall of screened cave fill are the first indicators of the destruction. As you move into the internal chamber, the portion near the lower entrance resembles a mineshaft from untold looting exploits, and near the upper entrance from the back wall of the cave to the opening is a large stratified mound over a meter tall comprised of looted cave fill. The persons that mined Spirit Eye were all after the same thing–the unique perishable artifacts that this cave preserved (Fig. 2).
The artifact assemblage from Spirit Eye offers a unique and holistic view into technologies that made prehistoric adaptation to the Chihuahuan Desert possible. In an effort to salvage some of this valuable information, the Center for Big Bend Studies of Sul Ross State University began the first systematic excavations in the cave in early May of this year. In operationalizing the excavation, we knew it would be important to understand the periods of looting, and what has emerged is a complex and storied history. By the 1960s, artifact collectors at Spirit Eye conducted intense periods of excavation fueled by both black market values and personal curiosity. Understanding this history has enabled us to relocate and claim orphaned collections in curational facilities like TARL and private collections, all of which contain unrivaled artifact assemblages. These looted collections, including many artifacts and a mummified set of human remains recovered from a private collector in the 1990s and now housed at TARL, will be one aspect of our investigations.
Our goal is to understand how the years of unsystematic excavation progressed and to develop research methods that can be used to salvage data from this and other extensively looted archaeology sites. Although our work is still ongoing, we have already recovered thousands of artifacts discarded by collectors, most of them perishable. Not surprisingly, these include domestic artifacts like quids, human coprolites, cordage, various kinds of processed plant fiber, faunal artifacts, foodstuffs, and carved wooden artifacts (Fig. 3). The site, while severely impacted, holds far-reaching research potential that requires an unconventional research design. We are very much at the beginning stages of this research, but it is obvious that we can use Spirit Eye as a laboratory to push the possibilities of research in perishable artifact analysis.
This Saturday, TARL held another free, hands-on workshop for experimental archeologists and those interested in learning more about prehistoric lithic technologies. Our flintknapping workshop was led by expert knappers Chris Ringstaff of TxDOT and Dr. Robert Lassen of Texas State University. A dozen or so workshop participants, ranging from undergrads and first-timers to seasoned knappers and professionals, showed up to try their hand at flintknapping.
The instructors covered a variety of knapping techniques including hard- and soft-hammer percussion, pressure flaking, and indirect percussion. They brought several hundred pounds of our local Edwards chert and other raw materials for participants to use. Everyone had a fun day and gained some new insights into prehistoric stone tool production, lithic analysis, and subsistence techniques.
Thank you to our incredible instructors for putting so much time and effort into making this a great workshop!
If you have suggestions for future workshops that would benefit you as a student or archeological professional, please let us know! We want to continue providing useful and fun opportunities to the community.
This week, TARL is sad to say goodbye to one of our staff. Dr. Stacy Drake, TARL’s Staff Osteologist and NAGPRA Coordinator, has left us for a great new opportunity to work at the Field Museum in Chicago. Stacy will be working on osteological analysis and NAGPRA consultation and repatriation work at the Field Museum.
During her time at TARL, Stacy oversaw the rehabilitation and analysis of many human remains in the TARL Human Osteology Laboratory. She also mentored numerous students and volunteers, and assisted with several tribal consultations on NAGPRA and repatriation issues. Stacy will be greatly missed at TARL but we wish her all the best in her new position!
For the time being, all inquiries regarding human osteological research or NAGPRA should be directed to TARL’s Head of Collections, Marybeth Tomka (firstname.lastname@example.org).
TARL is looking for student researchers and volunteers for two upcoming events this spring semester. Want to present your independent research or share your love of archeology with others? Here’s your chance!
UT Research Week 2017
UT Research Week is a chance for undergraduates to present their research and find new research opportunities. This year, TARL will be hosting a table at the Longhorn Research Bazaar (April 19) for students who want to present research. We’ll also be passing out information about volunteer and internship opportunities at TARL during this event. If we have a lot of students with research they want to share, we may organize a symposium as well!
If you’re interested in presenting research or helping disseminate information at this event, please get in touch with us today!
Explore UT 2017
Explore UT is an annual event designed to give young students a taste of university life. TARL joins in the fun every year with several tables full of hands-on archeological activities. This year we’ll be doing rock art, beaded bracelets, and more. We need volunteers to help! Students and adults are welcome; no experience needed.
To volunteer for one of these activities, please email us at FriendsofTARL@utexas.edu, or leave a comment below.