Category Archives: News & Outreach

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!

The Fates of Very Ancient Remains

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:

Fates of Very Ancient Remains

Infierno Village (41VV446): A Summary Status Review, by Elton R. Prewitt

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.

The middle complex at Infierno Village. This is only one of three large clusters of alignments and features at the site.

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.

High-resolution imagery of one of the many stone alignments in the North complex, Feature 3.
Scale drawing of Feature 3, Infierno Village.

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.

A Story of Freedom on Texas Beyond History, by Laura Cruzada, Lee Reissig, and Marisol Espino

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.

 

Elizabeth and Rubin Hancock, residents of the Duval community. Photo copyright Texas Beyond History.

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.

Learn more about the Rubin-Hancock Site:

www.texasbeyondhistory.org/rubin