Category Archives: TARL Staff

The A.E. Anderson Collection By Nadya Prociuk

Nadya Prociuk is an Affiliated Researcher at TARL. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter. 


For the past several months, TARL’s own Lauren Bussiere and I have been working with the A. E. Anderson Collection, which has been housed at TARL for more than 65 years. A. E. Anderson was a civil engineer based in Brownsville, and over the course of his career he surveyed and collected from around 200 sites in the Rio Grande Delta, both in Texas and Tamaulipas. Anderson’s collection contains over 2, 000 prehistoric artifacts such as shell ornaments and tools, chipped stone tools, bone, groundstone, and ceramics. Thanks to his lifetime of work, Anderson’s collection is the most significant resource currently available for the study of the cultural prehistory of the Rio Grande Delta.

Figure 1. Vessels of Huastecan origin in the A.E. Anderson collection housed at TARL. These vessels were first identified by Gordon Eckholm as demonstrating a connection between the prehistoric inhabitants of the Rio Grande Delta and the Huastecan groups further south along the coast.

Several researchers have worked with the Anderson Collection over the years, though none have completely inventoried or analyzed the collection up to this point. T. N. Campbell studied the collection when it first arrived at the University of Texas in the 1940s, and Richard MacNeish also used the collection as a starting point for his definitions of the Brownsville and Barril Complexes. In the 1970s Elton Prewitt re-surveyed the Anderson sites located in Cameron County, and compiled an inventory of the artifacts from those sites. Multiple salvage and cultural resource management projects have been undertaken in the Rio Grande Valley that have added to our understanding of the archaeology of the area. Unfortunately, work with Anderson’s collection stalled until the late 1990s when William J. Wagner III completed a Master’s thesis on the ceramics in the collection. With his research Wagner confirmed Gordon Eckholm’s early assessment that a number of the ceramics in the Anderson Collection actually came from the Huastecan region of the Mexican Gulf Coast, suggesting significant long-distance trade ties with that area. Though other research has been done in the Rio Grande Delta area since that time, such as Tiffany Terneny’s Doctoral dissertation analyzing local burials, Wagner’s ceramic analysis was the last substantive work done with the Anderson Collection until now.

Nearly a year ago Lauren approached me about an opportunity to contribute to an upcoming edited volume on trade and cultural interaction in North America, and suggested using the Anderson Collection to look at potential interactions between the Rio Grande Delta area and the Huastecan region. We decided to collaborate on the paper, which has proven to be an unexpectedly rich undertaking. Our goal in writing the paper has been to understand the nature of the interaction between the cultures of the Rio Grande Delta and the Huasteca, including what types of items they may have been trading. We have also sought to provide an example of how cultures which may be considered marginal, such as those of the Rio Grande Delta, can be active participants in wider economies of trade and exchange. An added benefit of our research is also to raise the profile of this archaeological region both within Texas and farther afield, since it is often ignored in favor of other areas. We have submitted the first draft of our chapter to the editors, and publication is expected sometime in 2019. In addition to our book chapter, we will be presenting our research at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Washington D.C. this April, and are looking forward to spreading the word about this fascinating region and getting feedback on our research.

While conducting the research for these projects it became clear to us that though the Anderson Collection is an invaluable resource for the study of the archaeology of the Rio Grande Delta, no comprehensive inventory has been completed since Anderson was in possession of the collection. Such an inventory, with up-to-date classifications, artifact counts, locations, and site information, is a necessary step towards TARL’s goal of making this collection accessible to future researchers. To that end I have been working with the collection since January, and have been fascinated particularly with the abundant use of shell both as ornament and also for tools. It is clear that the people of the Rio Grande Delta were adept at utilizing the abundant marine resources at their disposal to craft a variety of utilitarian and decorative items, and that this shell industry was likely a key element in their interaction with outside groups. It is our hope that through this work the Anderson Collection will become a productive and useful resource for future study of the Rio Grande Delta area, and that others will begin to take a more active interest in pursuing research in this intriguing area.

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.

The Lighter Side of Dr. E. Mott Davis

TARL’s staff is working hard to digitize many of our old records, including the many hundreds of pages of professional and personal correspondence from some of the greatest minds in the history of Texas archeology.

Dr. E. Mott Davis was a professor in the UT Anthropology Department from 1956 into the 1990s, and was a well-known face in the Texas Archeological Society. He was a major figure in Plains archeology and is fondly remembered by many of his students.

We thought we’d share the following delightful exchange between Dr. E. Mott Davis and Dr. Alfred E. Dittert, Jr., of New Mexico State University.

Dr. Dittert’s message to Dr. Davis:

And Dr. Davis’ reply:

More entirely serious messages from Mott can be found at the Nebraska University Library’s website.

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.

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!

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

TARL Staffing Update: Farewell, Dr. Drake!

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.

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Dr. Stacy Drake teaching future archeologists about burials at the Texas Archeology Month Fair in October 2016.

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 (marybeth.tomka@austin.utexas.edu).

 

TARL News & Upcoming Events

What a year it has been at TARL! We’ve had some amazing research done using our collections, had some wonderful students come through here as work-studies, interns, and volunteers, built our community of volunteers and supporters, and brought our love of archeology to hundreds of people through our public outreach.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us with all these activities, and especially to those who have volunteered their time to help us out. We could never have accomplished what we have without you!

TARL’s offices will be closed for the winter holiday beginning December 23, 2016. We will reopen on January 2, 2017. We wish you all a lovely holiday and a happy new year.

Happy Holidays from TARL! TARL Staff (L to R): Librarian May Schmidt, Registrar Rosario Casarez, Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka, Director Brian Roberts, TexSite Coordinator Jean Hughes, Administrative Assistant Diane Ruetz, Staff Osteologist & NAGPRA Coordinator Stacy Drake, Curatorial Assistant Lauren Bussiere, and Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis.
Happy Holidays from TARL! TARL Staff (L to R): Librarian May Schmidt, Registrar Rosario Casarez, Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka, Director Brian Roberts, TexSite Coordinator Jean Hughes, Administrative Assistant Diane Ruetz, Staff Osteologist & NAGPRA Coordinator Stacy Drake, Curatorial Assistant Lauren Bussiere, and Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis.

TARL Student News

TARL Staff Osteologist and NAGPRA Coordinator Stacy Drake completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology from UT. Her dissertation topic was an analysis of more than 120 burials from various sites in northern Belize, identifying various mortuary patterns. We are so proud of you, Dr. Drake!

TARL Human Osteology Lab Intern Lauren Koutlias graduated this December with special honors in Anthropology. She plans to pursue graduate education beginning next school year. Way to go, Lauren!

TARL Collections Intern Sheldon Smith will take over as President of the UT AnthroSociety in the spring 2017 semester. We look forward to you recruiting more volunteers for us, Sheldon!


Public Outreach at TARL

In 2016, TARL reached more than a thousand individuals through our public outreach efforts. These activities included:

  • Hands-on activities at the annual university-wide open house, Explore UT.
  • Guest lectures and workshops by TARL staff at UT and Texas State, as well as for the UT AnthroSociety.
  • Hands-on activities at the annual Girls in STEM Conference as well as at summer camps hosted by local STEM education nonprofit Girlstart.
  • A new tradition: the Texas Archeology Month Tailgate, leading up to the Texas Archeology Month Fair, both in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission and other groups.
  • Participating in Russell Lee Elementary’s career fair for 3rd-6th graders.

TARL also had the honor of hosting representatives from various Native American tribes and nations, and participating in a joint meeting with multiple tribal representatives from throughout the US Southwest and South. We are dedicated to improving working relationships with Native American communities and we are grateful for the perspectives and involvements of these various groups.

TARL's Jean and May teach button-making at Explore UT 2016.
TARL’s Jean and May teach button-making at Explore UT 2016.

Upcoming Events

  • January 4-8, 2017: Society for Historical Archaeology  Annual Conference, Ft. Worth, Texas.
  • January 7: Public Archaeology Day at SHA, Omni Hotel, Ft. Worth, Texas.
  • January 14-15: TAS Canyonlands Academy, Langtry, Texas. Registration deadline is January 2.
  • Now through February 25: “Tutankhamun: Wonderful Things from the Pharaoh’s Tomb” exhibit at Texas Museum of Science & Technology, Cedar Park, Texas.
  • February 25-26: TAS Ceramics Academy, Jacksboro, Texas. Registration deadline is February 10.
  • March 4: Explore UT, Main UT Campus, Austin, Texas.
  • April 29-30: TAS Technology in Archeology Academy, Fredericksburg, Texas. Registration deadline is April 14.
  • June 10-17: TAS Field School at San Lorenzo de la Cruz, Camp Wood, Texas.

Have news to share?

New job? New research? Plans for graduation or retirement? We want to hear from you!

We are also looking for stories about your experiences at TARL from the 1960s to the 2000s.

Email us or comment below to submit your news and stories.

TARL Staff Visits the Texas State Forensic Anthropology Research Facility

by Lauren Bussiere

TARL Staff and FACTS researchers Dr. Michelle Hamilton and Courtney Siegert at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, Texas State University-San Marcos.
TARL Staff and FACTS researchers Dr. Michelle Hamilton and Courtney Siegert at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Recently some of TARL’s staff members had a unique opportunity to visit the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University—informally known by the public as the “body farm” but referred to as the “decomposition facility” by the researchers—and learn about the amazing research going on there. This facility and its associated labs are the home of some of the most cutting-edge forensics research happening in Texas. A huge thank-you to Dr. Michelle Hamilton, Courtney Siegert, and the rest of the staff and students at Texas State who took the time to show us around and share their research.

FACTS and its associated facilities provide training opportunities for law enforcement officers, and they collaborate with outside researchers studying taphonomic processes, recovery methods, and more. They also offer a great training and research program for Texas State students interested in forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology. Much of the research at FACTS uses the remains of people who donate their bodies. Learn more about FACTS and their various programs on their website.

One of the most interesting programs going on at FACTS is their Operation Identification or “OpID” program, which works to identify the remains of individuals who have died crossing into Texas from the Mexican border. The OpID staff and students analyze these remains and collaborate with other organizations, including the Border Patrol, FBI, NGOs, and international groups, to match the remains with reported missing persons and eventually return the remains to their families. Since 2013, the program has completed analysis of approximately 100 individuals, with 10 positive IDs made and returned to their families. Although it was heartbreaking to hear the stories of these migrants who perished while searching for a better life, we are humbled by the hard work and dedication of everyone who volunteers their time and effort to contribute to this important work. Find more information on OpID, including volunteer opportunities, through their Facebook page.

We at TARL are always glad to have the chance to get out and see what our colleagues and counterparts are doing, so that we can learn about new research and begin new collaborations.

Thank you, FACTS and Texas State!

TARL at the 86th Annual Meeting of the Texas Archeological Society

by Lauren Bussiere

TAS_2015

Jessie, Marybeth, Lauren, Stacy and Jonathan at the TAS meeting

Recently TARL’s staff braved torrential downpours, high winds, and sketchy hotel continental breakfasts to attend the 86th Annual Meeting of the Texas Archeological Society in Houston. We all greatly enjoyed sharing our work with our friends and colleagues, meeting new folks and spending time with old friends.

During the meetings, TAS honored TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis for 20 years of membership, and Texas Beyond History director Susan Dial for 30 years of membership in the TAS. We are reminded of how fortunate TARL is to have such dedicated and knowledgeable members of the professional community leading our team!

TARL staff had a great time presenting our work at our symposium session, “TARL Today: Projects and Prospects,” and we are grateful to everyone who took the time to come listen to our presentations and offer their feedback on our work. TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis presented on “The Legacy of A. T. Jackson,” providing a fascinating look into the history of TARL’s collections and particularly the many assemblages that were excavated during the WPA era of Texas archaeology. Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka and Curatorial Assistant Lauren Bussiere shared their pilot project—rehabbing one of these WPA-era collections—in their talk “WPA Archaeology: Revisiting the Harrell Site Collections.” TARL Osteologist and NAGPRA Coordinator Stacy Drake discussed her findings regarding “Skeletal Pathologies of Prehistoric Individuals at Falcon Reservoir,” providing a fascinating look into the challenges of salvage projects, and TARL Osteology Intern Jessie LeViseur demonstrated the wealth of new information that can be gained from re-analyzing old collections in her talk, “The Harrell Site: A New Perspective of a Prehistoric Cemetery.” Finally, TARL Director Brian Roberts discussed TARL’s current state and plans for the future in his presentation, “TARL Today.” We hope that our session provided an interesting look into the various projects that keep us busy here at TARL.

We were all also glad to have the opportunity to hear about the great projects our colleagues across the state have been conducting. TARL would like to extend our thanks to all the presenters for sharing their work, to our audience members for their interest in TARL and support of our work, and especially to the organizers of the TAS meetings: the Houston Archeological Society, Fort Bend Archeological Society, and Brazoria Archeological Society. Their hard work made this year’s meetings a fun and educational experience for all of us!