Category Archives: News & Outreach

Goodbye to Flash! Changes Underway for Texas Beyond History by Susan Dial and Steve Black

As many of you know, we have been hard at work for the last two years with UT’s Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) trying to bring our 17-year-old website, Texas Beyond History, into the 21st Century. We are happy to report that this complicated “makeover” is nearly complete and promises both esthetic and functional improvements. The project transforms our main entry portals as well as educational activities and interactive graphics originally programmed in Adobe Flash into a more modern technology accessible on many more platforms. This will allow viewers –whether in the classroom or in the field–to use tablets and, to a lesser extent, cell phones, to engage in TBH’s interactive learning activities, open interactive charts and maps, and fully utilize the resources of the website. TBH will have a fresh, new look but more importantly should function more smoothly.

Website technology has advanced exponentially since the founding of TBH in 2001, when Steve and I, along with student website developer Meg Kemp, unveiled the website and the first 20 site exhibits. At the time, we were excited to offer many interactive features for maps, graphics, and student learning activities using Flash technology. The “cat’s meow” for its time, this program provided exciting tools to incorporate animation and other interactive capabilities in maps and graphics (e.g. opening up stratigraphic layers in a profile map). Unfortunately, Flash is no longer being supported by many browsers and has been dropped altogether by Apple and some newer Android devices. Viewers who use Apple products, particularly iPads and Mac books, may have been encountering blank pages where our traditional TBH interactive maps and Kids Only revolving carousel should be.

As further complication, TBH was designed for “mousing” on a desktop or laptop, before touchpad navigation came into vogue. Many of our interactive scenes where users “mouse over and click” on segments of paintings to access more detailed information and site-specific photos of evidence (ie., Frank Weir’s remarkable painting of a prehistoric burial scene from Loma Sandia cemetery) cannot be utilized on these devices. As might be anticipated, this is a particularly critical problem in the classroom, and for K-12 teachers in particular, as schools increasingly are providing individual tablets for student use. For LAITS, the process has been especially challenging due to the volume of Flash content on TBH and markedly different formats in each of the Flash activities. There has been no “one size fits all” solution to reprogramming this content. Over the last year, however, LAITS web developers engineered a process to strip out content and imagery and then recreate the 40+ interactives using HTML5.

Along with the technical changes, there also will be a new look for TBH. Instead of the interactive Texas sites map, TBH will soon have a colorful and streamlined portal for accessing all of the website sections. (A revamped version of the familiar TBH map page will be accessible in a section called Site Explorer and made functional for all browsers.)

Rollout of our revamped website is slated for sometime this Fall (2018). This is particularly important because TBH is heavily used in university archeology classes as well as in 4th and 7th-grade classrooms. We continue to receive emails from Social Studies teachers who have been stymied by the non-working Flash activities, but are anxious to once again use educational interactives such as “Through the Eyes of the Explorer: Cabeza de Vaca on the South Texas Plains.” Older students (even university students, according to Texas A&M professor Alston Thoms,) have used the kids Flash activity “Stratification in Action!” to better understand complex stratigraphic processes such as that which occurred over thousands of years on the Medina River at the Richard Beene site, on which the activity is based.

This summer (with Steve back at TARL just in time for the TBH review process!) we will continue testing the updated website, checking new functions, and kicking the tires, so to speak. It is a painstaking process with numerous technological bugs lurking in the 60,000+ files that comprise TBH. Fortunately TBH Associate Editor Heather Smith and Education Advisor Carol Schlenk have been able to join in the effort. While change can be difficult (if not agonizing), we at TBH are determined to embrace the opportunity to usher this much loved and critically acclaimed public education website into the modern era. We are grateful for the time and dedicated efforts of the LAITS staff and student technical assistants.

And as for what lies beyond the website revamp process, Steve is already at work creating new plans and a vision of the future for TBH. Stay tuned!

Lithics & Flintknapping Workshop

This weekend, TARL welcomed instructors Dr. Robert Lassen and Sergio Ayala, both from the Gault School of Archaeological Research, who led an excellent workshop in lithic analysis and flintknapping.

Dr. Lassen presented on lithic technology, typology, and analysis, along with a show-and-tell presentation of artifacts from the Gault site and from the TARL collections. The workshop focused on artifact types commonly found in Texas, but we also got to look at some artifacts from Mesoamerica, elsewhere in North America, and even a few Lower Paleolithic artifacts from Africa.

Dr. Robert Lassen explained principles of stone tool artifact analysis to workshop participants.
A sample of lithic artifacts from TARL and the Gault site.

After a morning of classroom work, participants got to check out a flintknapping demo from Sergio, who makes excellent stone tool reproductions by hand. Afterward, all the workshop attendees got to try their hand at making their own stone tools using the same techniques and materials used by prehistoric people.

Sergio Ayala explains some finer points of his flintknapping techniques.
Sergio Ayala demonstrates flintknapping techniques to workshop participants.
Workshop participants practice hard-hammer percussion to create stone tools.
Dr. Lassen helps students plan their flake removal strategy.

Thank you so much to our wonderful instructors for volunteering their time and expertise to make this a great workshop! And thanks to all the students, volunteers, and participants who attended–we hope you had a great time.

If you have suggestions for future workshop topics, or would like to volunteer to lead a TARL workshop, please comment below or email our staff.

Field Schools & Fieldwork Opportunities for 2018

We know that there are many interesting field projects out there looking for students and promising to help you build your skills, gain experience, and expand your professional network. But which ones are the best fit for your goals (and your budget)?

To help students and others looking for fieldwork opportunities this year, we’ve put together this list of recommended projects. For most projects listed below, students can earn course credit while gaining archeological field experience through these accredited field schools. We recommend that every archeology student attend at least one field school before graduating. Many field schools also accept volunteers–participants who do not earn course credit, and may not be current students. Costs listed below do not include tuition and fees or travel, but most include room and board. Many programs have scholarships available.

UT & International Field Schools

Programme for Belize (University of Texas)

Excavate Maya settlements from the Classic to the Postclassic in the subtropical jungles of northern Belize. This year’s program will include a 2-day workshop in skeletal analysis.

2018 Dates:

Cost: US $1,765 for one session or $2,765 for both sessions.

Info: UT PfBAP Home Page

Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project (BVAR)

Excavate Maya sites dating from the Preclassic through the Classic period in western Belize. Course credit available through Northern Arizona University.

2018 Dates: Session 1: May 27 – June 23; Session 2: July 1 – July 28.

Cost: US $2,200 per session

Info: bvar.org

Moche Multidisciplinary Field School

An archaeology and bioarchaeology field school on the north coast of Peru. Course credit available through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

2018 Dates: June 21 – July 25

Cost: $3,600

Info: Save the Moche


North American Field Schools

Below are some accredited field schools for students who want to broaden their experience in North American archaeology.

Etzanoa Field School

Excavate the second-largest known prehistoric site in the United States. Course credit available through Wichita State University.

2018 Dates: June 4 – June 29

Cost: $1,540

Info: Contact Dr. Donald Blakeslee or the WSU Anthropology department.

Exploring Globalization REU – Caribbean

Learn anthropological and forensic archeology at a field site on the Caribbean island of Saint Eustatius, with a lab component at Texas State University.

2018 Dates: June 11 – August 3

Cost: Free with $500/ week stipend

Info: Contact Dr. Todd Ahlman (toddahlman@txstate.edu) at Texas State University.

Luna Settlement & Shipwrecks Field School

Learn techniques of underwater and terrestrial archaeology at sites near Pensacola, Florida. Course credit available through Florida State University.

2018 Dates: May 21 – July 28

Cost: Contact for cost information

Info: Florida State Anthropology

Digital Camera

Texas Field Schools & Fieldwork Opportunities

Below are some highly recommended field schools in Texas, as well as two volunteer opportunities for students and graduates.

Nueces Canyon & Mission San Lorenzo de la Cruz with the Texas Archeological Society and Texas Tech

This year the Texas Archeological Society field school will return to Camp Wood to excavate historic Mission San Lorenzo de la Cruz. Course credit is available to students through Texas Tech University; the TAS field school is open to all TAS members as well. The TAS field school is an excellent opportunity for archaeologists under 18.

2018 Dates: TAS field school June 9 – June 16. TTU field school May 19 – June 22. 

Cost: TAS field school $100+ depending on length of stay, plus TAS membership. TTU field school $850 plus tuition.

Info: Texas Archeological Society; for Texas Tech field school contact Dr. Tamra Walter (tamra.walter@ttu.edu).

West Texas Cave Archeology with the Center for Big Bend Studies

Excavate two caves occupied since the mid-Holocene and learn techniques such as mapping, photogrammetry, and how to manage archeological collections, including many perishable artifacts. Course credit through Sul Ross State University

2018 Dates: May 30 – July 6

Cost: $500 plus tuition.

Info: Contact Dr. Bryon Schroeder (bryon.schroeder@sulross.edu).

San Saba River with LUAS

The Llano Uplift Archeological Society is currently conducting fieldwork on Cherokee Creek, at the westernmost known Caddo site in Texas. They are looking for volunteers for Saturday excavations.

2018 Dates: Saturdays, now until excavation is complete

Cost: Free

Info: Contact LUAS coordinator Charles Hixson (charles.hixson@gmail.com).

Bastrop County with TCAS & THC Stewards

The Travis County Archeological Society is currently conducting excavations at a site near Bastrop in central Texas, in conjunction with the Archeological Stewards program of the Texas Historical Commission. They are looking for volunteers for Sunday mornings.

2018 Dates: Sundays, now until excavation is complete

Cost: Free

Info: Contact Nick Morgan (nlmorgan@earthlink.net).

Explore UT 2018

This past weekend, TARL staff and students got to join in one of our favorite events of the year: Explore UT! Each year, the University of Texas opens its campus to thousands of K-12 visitors to give them a look at college life. Each department and research unit is invited to participate by sharing activities that can help students learn about the many majors and career paths open to them as a future UT student.

We had an amazing turnout this year–thousands of students from across the state came out to visit the UT campus. With the help of several amazing student volunteers and friends, we shared a hands-on activity, flintknapping demonstration, and artifact show and tell with a huge number of kids, educators, and parents.

We want to say a huge thank you to our volunteers! This day would not have been possible without your help. Thank you for helping us share our love of archeology with the next generation of UT students!

TxDOT archeologist Chris Ringstaff demonstrates flintknapping (stone tool making) to a group of students.
TARL Intern Mallory shares info with visitors.
UT grad students brought manos and metates to demonstrate prehistoric food preparation techniques.
TARL Intern Ann Marie discusses artifacts with students and parents.

TARL Visits Downtown Austin

This month, TARL students, donors, and volunteers had a chance to visit downtown Austin and see the historic buildings and excavation areas uncovered during excavations of Austin’s Guy Town district in the 1990s. TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis led the tour and talked about his experiences working on this project and the challenges of doing archeology in an urban environment. The massive archeological project covered four city blocks under what is now Austin’s City Hall and Second Street district–a part of town that in the 1870s–1910s was full of boarding houses, brothels, saloons, and gambling halls mixed in with the homes of working-class families and everyday business ventures. The tour group started the day with a look at some of the many artifacts recovered by archeologists, which included telltale signs of the lively atmosphere–beer and liquor bottles, poker chips, and dice–as well as the items lost or left behind in the course of everyday activities, such as sewing needles, children’s toys, and dishes. The artifacts recovered by this project are curated at TARL.

A huge number and variety of glass bottles were recovered from the Guytown excavations, including many beer and liquor bottles, patent medicine bottles, and perfume bottles.

We then visited the downtown site, where we learned a bit about the geomorphology of the Colorado River and the terrace where downtown Austin sits. Finally, we got to check out the few remaining historic structures in the area. A highlight of the field trip was a visit to the Schneider Beer Vaults, built by German immigrant J.P. Schneider, who dreamed of starting a brewery. The historic building across the street was also owned by the Schneider family and operated as a general store. We also learned a bit about another downtown historic site, the Susanna Dickinson Hannig House, where Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson lived out her last days. The Dickinson-Hannig House was also excavated during downtown construction in the 1990s, and is now a small museum near the Austin Convention Center.

TARL students, staff, volunteers, and friends in front of the J.P. Schneider General Store building in downtown Austin.
One of the barrel-vaulted underground chambers built by the Schneider family sometime in the 1870s. The structure is in the style of “beer vaults” built by many German immigrants, but Schneider died before it was ever used for brewing beer. The structure was re-discovered by archeologists in the 1990s.

Special thanks to Josh Prewitt, General Manager of La Condesa, and the La Condesa staff for welcoming us into their space so we could see the underground beer vaults, a unique gem of Austin’s history.

Field trips like this one are a special perk of membership in the Friends of TARL! Join the Friends of TARL to receive invitations to special events in 2018.

TARL Artifact Storage Facility Upgrades

TARL is excited to announce that our long-awaited improvements to our largest artifact storage area are getting underway this month. This construction project will provide increased security for our collections, as well as greatly improved climate control and work space.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Our artifact collections will be fully accessible throughout the construction project timeline (December 2017 through April 2018).
  • If you’re planning to conduct research using TARL collections during this time, please give us several weeks of additional lead time to pull artifacts, as we might have to work around the construction crews.
  • This project will have no effect on other TARL services, such as trinomial requests, file searches, new accessions, or research in the TARL records.

If you’re planning to visit TARL for research purposes between now and April, please send in your request for collections access early. We look forward to seeing you!

Request Collections Access

Texas Archeology Month Fair 2017

Thank you to everyone who came out to this year’s Texas Archeology Month Fair this past weekend!

What an event it was– 68 volunteers representing at least 18 local agencies and groups led activities for more than 400 visitors! The beautiful weather made it a perfect day to get outside and learn about archeology from the experts.

We are so grateful to all our volunteers, to the donors who helped make this event possible, and to our community for being so supportive of this kind of outreach! Thank you to all who shared your expertise and your love of archeology to help inspire the next generation of archeologists.

Here are some of our favorite photos from this year’s Fair. See y’all next year!

Soils in Archeology Workshop at TARL

On September 23, TARL hosted another great free workshop for students, professional archeologists, and others who wanted to
learn more about sediments in archeology. The workshop focused on both the geological and ethnobotanical aspects of
sedimentation, soil sampling, and sample processing. We were fortunate to have expert instructors Dr. Leslie Bush and Dr.
Charles Frederick, along with graduate student instructor Sam Krause, volunteer their time and effort to share their knowledge
with more than 20 attendees. Throughout the workshop, we learned about Texas geology and ecology, taphonomic processes,
archeological sampling strategies, and post-field sample processing.

Workshop participants identified soil textures and composition with a texture flowchart activitiy.

Workshop participants came from all quarters: undergraduate and graduate students from UT and other universities, professional archeologists, and folks with an interest in archeology who wanted to build their knowledge and skills. We are glad to offer this kind of opportunity for our community to come together and get some in-depth instruction on topics that will aid them in their professional endeavors. The soils and flotation workshop was a great chance for participants to increase their understanding of both important practical skills and underlying principles that can be enormously helpful as archeologists work to understand and interpret archeological sites. Thank you to our wonderful 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! If you are a professional with a specialty you’d like to share in a workshop, we want to hear from you, too. TARL hopes to continue providing useful and fun opportunities to the community. Follow our social media and join our email list for information on upcoming workshops. Our next workshop will be a discussion of issues surrounding the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), set for Saturday, November 18, 2017.

Participants practiced floating soil samples to recover botanical remains under the watchful eye of instructor Dr. Leslie Bush.

TARL Featured in the Austin-American Statesman

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.

TARL on Facebook

 

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.

Texas Archeology Month Fair 2017

 

If you haven’t read the article in the Statesman, check it out!

More than 50 million artifacts from Texas’ past kept at UT lab

TARL Visits the Gault Site

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.

Dr. Williams explains how the limestone outcrop functioned as a lithic raw material procurement zone, and points out some petroglyphs that likely date to the historic period.

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!

Rachel makes her dart fly!
Jeff and Sheldon are ready to go mammoth-hunting.

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!

Read more about Gault on Texas Beyond History.

Visit the Gault School’s website to learn more and schedule your own visit!