Category Archives: TARL Students


by Truc Nguyen

Hello! My name is Truc Nguyen and I am an undergraduate currently finishing up my last semester at the University of Texas at Austin. I will hopefully graduate in May with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in French. My academic focus for the past few years has been mostly physical anthropology, particularly with human osteology.

I have had the great opportunity to work with many of the faculty and staff members both on the main campus and here at TARL. Currently, I am part of an Undergraduate Research Internship with Amber Heard-Booth. I am assisting her with her doctoral dissertation looking at variations in longitudinal arch in humans. This internship has allowed me to work closely with great technology, such as 3D scanners and software. Working with a graduate student has also given me insight on life in academia.

I am also working with Dr. John Kappelman as part of an independent study class. This has given me the opportunity to work here at TARL and explore the many collections here. Under the patient guidance of Kerri Wilhelm, I hope to gain experience and knowledge from working with such a vast amount of materials. I hope to be involved in as many projects as I can and I am so excited to be here!



Teaching at TARL

by Kerri Wilhelm

This semester our Associate Director, Jonathan Jarvis, is instructing a course here at TARL entitled “Digital Data Systems in Archeology (ANT 324L).”  It is a hands-on course introducing students to the digital equipment and basic geospatial software used in the field to collect archeological location data.  Jonathan provides students an introduction to GIS and an over view of near-surface sensing techniques, technical skills that archeologists should be able to successfully apply while conducting field work.  Jonathan’s focus is providing these UT students the fundamentals of instrument operation and data capture in simulated archeological field conditions.  CRM firms seek to hire the most qualified recent graduates and Jonathan’s course gives students their first real introduction to what will be expected of them when considering a career in archeology: a firm foundation in location mapping and working with geospatial data.



Jonathan was kind enough to invite me to speak to his students to recruit student bloggers.  These students are being introduced to the technology and software programs that continue to evolve in scope and application even as they progress through the semester.  I wanted to take an opportunity to get some feedback from the students about their perspectives on the increasing role, and perhaps, increasing dependence, on technology to carry out field data collection and synthesis.  I offered the following topics to them as potential blog post material as they work their way through the course:

“Posts can range in topics from the macro (how trends in technology are being represented in the field of archeology) to the micro (what are the advantages and disadvantages of using ‘satellite archeology’ to define archeological sites and what are the limitations).  Other topics to be considered can include:

  • how are recent technologies changing the roles archeologists play in defining history?
  • are software applications, like GIS, more reliable for publishing data in archeology or less reliable because it assumes a level of computer proficiency that the field of archeology may still be trying to catch up with?
  • how has technology changed the role of the archeologist in the field over the last 100 years?
  • does social networking have the potential to increase the relevance and value of archeological data and interpretation? How?
  • what are some good examples of technology providing archeologists with tools and data that they would not have otherwise obtained?
  • how can technology be applied to existing archeological collections to obtain more or better data, re-interpret findings or provide more access to researchers who cannot afford to physically visit the collections?”

As we continue to invite more and more students to join us out here at TARL, we not only want for them to learn the ins-and-outs of processing archeological collections or the necessity for strict policy to guide the management of collections of artifacts that number in the tens and hundreds of thousands, we also want them to use the skills they are acquiring out here to apply in their critical thinking as they approach the various sub-disciplines within archeology that will govern their professional paths.  TARL is a resource at many levels, and not just for the massive volume of collections or the depth of time they represent.  TARL is also a resource based on the knowledge that staff bring to bear in helping to teach the next generation of archeologists.  The students in Jonathan’s archeology class represent the most digitally-based generation of future archeological researchers yet.  It will be interesting to read their posts and to hear their thoughts about the role that they foresee technology playing in their future professional careers.






by Stacy Drake

I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. My focus of study is in archaeology, with a particular emphasis on human osteology and the ancient Maya. My dissertation research is a bioarchaeological assessment of human burial traditions and life experiences of the ancient Maya throughout time periods and different sites in Northwestern Belize. Outside of my dissertation work, I am also very interested in and passionate about public outreach and education in archaeology. I greatly enjoy working with local and descendant communities and providing educational opportunities in archaeology with students of all ages.

I received Bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and German from the University of Iowa, and received my Master’s at UT Austin in 2011. I hope to defend my dissertation in 2015. I have 10 years of experience conducting archaeological field work, analysis, and research, and have worked with various Cultural Resource Management firms in Iowa and Texas. My first archaeological field school experience was at a historic homestead in Iowa, and I have since participated in field schools in Texas and Belize. I currently serve as Project Bioarchaeologist for the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project in Belize, and enjoy the joint opportunities to work with human remains from various ancient Maya sites and to also work alongside and instruct field school students in proper burial excavation and analysis techniques.

For the past few months I have enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer in the Human Osteology lab at TARL. For this project I am working with human remains to complete inventories and profiles of the individuals housed at TARL. I utilize basic osteological analysis techniques to identify the bones present within each collection and create assessments of sex, age at death, and any other special characteristics each individual skeleton exhibits (such as diseases and traumas experienced during the life or at the time of death of the individual). This analysis will aid in the creation of a database which will allow researchers to access and contribute to useful information regarding ancient populations in Texas.

The ability to work so closely with well preserved and curated remains has been profoundly valuable for my studies, my research, and my educational and personal pursuits. Since working with these remains, I have improved upon and learned new techniques for osteological analysis. I have developed a better understanding of efficient documentation processes and intend to implement similar methods in my own dissertation work. I have also been exposed to special technologies to which I have not previously had access. In particular, Kerri Wilhelm has been extremely supportive in demonstrating the use of some of these technologies and helping to guide me through particularly difficult specimens. I am grateful to her and Marybeth Tomka for this opportunity and experience.

My experience volunteering in the Human Osteology laboratory at TARL has greatly benefited my current research. Preservation conditions in Belize are not kind to bone, so the ability to study the relatively well-preserved collections at TARL has been extremely beneficial. While bones in Belize are often fragmentary and severely damaged by the natural environment, I have been able to further familiarize myself with characteristics of human bone that are not as observable in poorer preservation conditions. While conducting inventory and analysis on the TARL collections, I have not only improved my familiarity with skeletal analysis, but also with methods and techniques that I intend to implement in my own dissertation research and in the field school’s analysis process in Belize. Finally, my growing ability to identify more uncommon characteristics present in some of the skeletal collections (such as various trauma or pathological conditions or taphonomic processes) is primarily due to the patience and guidance of Kerri Wilhelm, who greets every question I bring to her (and there are many!) with a smile and helpful answer. I look forward to seeing what information will be gleaned from future research on the TARL collections and have personally benefited greatly from my own experiences therewith.





Always, the Work Continues…

Ongoing Collections Management Efforts at TARL

by Kerri Wilhelm

One of TARL’s many functions, and secondary only to its role as an archeological research facility at UT Austin, is serving as a repository for archeological collections derived from permitted excavations in Texas.  It is in TARL’s capacity as a state-certified repository that our staff expends a great deal of time and resources performing the intake tasks associated with reviewing inventories of submitted collections and associated records.  Marybeth Tomka, our new Head of Collections, tries to make the most of the intake process by offering to train students interested in CRM archeology in proper artifact laboratory methods and collections processing techniques.  This is a great opportunity for students interested in learning artifact identification and analysis, especially as relates to ceramic and point typologies, to work with different artifact classes and to learn from knowledgeable staff about their classifications and significance.

This photograph shows PhD. candidate Debora Trein (left) and volunteer Elizabeth Martindale (right) meticulously confirming submitted inventories against their collections they.  In particular Debora is confirming the inventory of a  contractor-submitted collection.  Following her check of the collection, and a review of documentation by Marybeth and Rosario, the collection will be placed into TARL’s permanent curation space.  Elizabeth Martindale is also confirming the inventory against the collections for a submitted collection.  However, following her review the collection she is working on will be sent to another repository for permanent curation.

Keep checking back on the blog as we continue to chronicle the work on the various duties and projects we undertake.  If you’re a college student and interested in archeology, collections management or archives and information management, you’re encouraged to contact Marybeth about opportunities we have for contributing to projects.  Send her an email and let her know that you’re interested in volunteering or in carrying out an internship.  She’ll be glad to discuss these opportunities with you!




Introducing TARL’s Current Student Contributor:  Debora Trein

by Debora Trein

I am originally from Brazil, and I was interested in the human past from an early age, an interest that manifested itself with a fascination with ancient mythology! I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study archaeology at University College London (UCL) in the UK, where I achieved a Bachelor’s degree in archaeology followed by a Master’s degree in archaeology in 2006. In 2008, I entered the graduate program at the Department of Anthropology at UT Austin, and I am planning to defend my doctoral dissertation in 2015.

I have over 10 years of fieldwork experience, working in archaeological sites in the UK, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and Texas, leading and participating in a variety of projects, which included many archaeology fieldschools as well as excavation- and conservation-driven research. Since 2007, I have conducted research with the UT Austin-administered Programme for Belize Archaeology Project, one of the largest archaeological fieldschools in Mesoamerica, serving as assistant project director since the 2014 field season.

The projects that I am personally involved in entail the digitization and organization of some of TARL’s many collections of archaeological material and document. I have aided in the creation and compilation of a TARL “Loans” database, which records all loans coming to and from TARL from 1930s to the present. These loans may involve archaeological material, photographs, maps, slides, reproductions, and reports, information that is documented in the digital database. I am also analyzing the lending and borrowing practices of TARL through time, charting the changing relationships between TARL and borrowing institutions such as museums, private individuals, companies, and academic researchers. The reasons for loans, which may have included academic research, reporting, and educational events such as conferences and school talks, for instance, are also recorded. By managing the loan data in this way, we will be able to determine what parts of the collections and library are accessed the most, and by whom. Moreover, we will also identify which relationships between TARL and external agencies may be strengthened through a more robust material borrowing and exchange program, a strategy that will be made possible through TARL’s continuing commitment to greater accessibility.

Currently, I am in the later stages of a project that entails the complete assessment of all dental material in all of TARL human remains collection. This kind of comprehensive evaluation has never been undertaken on a digital platform at TARL, and it will provide an invaluable resource in locating and quantifying human remains under TARL’s stewardship. Moreover, the level of qualitative detail contained in this database will include information such as the number and type of teeth in good preservation state, information useful to potential researchers wishing to examine ancient population dynamics in Texas.

I am working towards my “black sash” in Choy Li Fut Kung Fu.

Debora Trein conducting excavation during a field season.
Debora Trein excavating during a field season.