TARL Collections Highlighted in Book of UT’s Hidden Treasures

By Lauren Bussiere

This January, the UT Press released a landmark volume entitled The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin. This beautiful coffee-table volume, edited by Andrée Bober, highlights more than 80 collections of historical, artistic, and scientific objects held by the University. TARL is honored and delighted to have some of our most beautiful artifacts included in this publication.

DSCN1781

Cat. No. 16SA48-209, Incised effigy on ground and polished quartz crystal from the Coral Snake Mound in Sabine Parish, Louisiana. Featured in The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin.

The Collections showcases only a small amount of the 170 million objects of significant cultural, historic, and scientific value owned by UT Austin—making the University the largest repository of these objects in the state and possibly in the U.S. Some of UT’s collections date as far back as 1883 when the university was founded. Materials from TARL highlighted in the volume include gorgeous lithic, ceramic, and perishable items, some of which date to 10,000 to 13,000 years ago.

TARL-15

Cat. No. 68, Corner-tang knife of grey chert, excavated by the University in 1974-75 at the Ernest Witte site in Austin County, Texas. Featured in The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin.

The inclusion of TARL materials in The Collections was made possible by the work of TARL Director Emeritus Darrell Creel and former TARL Head of Collections Laura Nightengale. Work on this massive volume began more than five years ago, and we are all gratified to see the realization of their labor of love.

TheCollectionsCover

The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin, now available from UT Press.

For more information about the book or to purchase a copy, please visit the UT Press website.

The Harrell Site Revisited: Collections Rehab Work at TARL

By Lauren Bussiere

Last year, TARL received a grant from the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Preservation Trust Fund grant program to conduct a collection rehabilitation project on one of our oldest collections of archaeological material. For this project, TARL chose the collection from the Harrell Site, a fascinating site in North Texas that was excavated by the WPA in 1938-1939. This rehab project was designed to make sure that the site collection is preserved for many years to come, and catalogued in such a way that it can be studied by future researchers. The rehab efforts also served as a pilot project to establish effective and efficient rehab procedures for use on other collections here at TARL.

The Harrell Site excavation was one of the largest projects conducted by the North Texas WPA team. Sitting on bluffs above the Brazos River, the site included a massive midden and hearth feature, known as the “Great Midden,” as well as numerous smaller hearths and burials. Two main occupations, dating to the Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric periods, are seen at the site, with continued usage of the site in the intervening period suggested as well. The Harrell site is the namesake for the Harrell Point, a small arrow point, and was considered the type site for the Henrietta Focus by archaeologist Alex Krieger, who analyzed the site collection in 1945. Read more about the Harrell site excavations here.

Harrell_points Scrapers
Harrell Points and Thumbnail End Scrapers from the Harrell site.

The WPA excavations of the 1930s and 40s were conducted in partnership with UT, and many of the materials recovered were brought to the University back in the 1940’s. But, curation standards in 2015 are much different than they were 75 years ago! While our newer accessions are stored and catalogued using modern practices, many of our older collections are still stored in the same condition they have been in for 30 years, or 50 years, or longer.

Our grant from TPTF was a rare and important opportunity to dedicate resources and staff time to bringing these collections up to modern standards. Eventually we hope to apply what we’ve learned from this project to all of our older collections.

TARL’s Harrell site rehabilitation project consisted of three main components:
1. Digitizing, inventorying, and improving storage for all of the field notes, reports, maps, and other records associated with the Harrell site’s excavation and subsequent analysis;
2. Cataloguing, photographing, and repackaging all of the artifacts remaining in the Harrell site collection, and re-analyzing the human remains from the site; and,
3. Creating a searchable, state-of-the art database that contains all of the data relating to the site artifacts, features, and records.

RecordsRecords2 Harrell site records before and after rehabilitation.

As a result of these rehab efforts, the 2,300+ artifacts that comprise the Harrell collection are now individually tagged and repackaged, and their storage conditions will ensure that they are safe for a much longer time. All the site records are organized, protected, and available for digital viewing. And, our database will make it simple to see what excavators found at the site, what we still have, and where to find every single artifact within TARL’s collections. This work has paved the way for future analysis of the Harrell site collection, and for our future rehab efforts on other collections.

Bone_and_shell Packaging Bone and shell tools from the Harrell site before and after rehabilitation.

Rehabilitating the Harrell collection has also been a valuable opportunity to revisit some of the past work that has been done on the site. The artifact assemblage plainly shows that many of the cultural practices inferred by Krieger and others were clearly present at the site: residents were grinding food with manos and metates, probably practicing s ome horticulture or agriculture, and utilizing the abundant mussels from the river as a major food source. Numerous projectile points of many sizes and types were used for hunting during both major occupation phases. Ceramic pipes and ochre indicate that ceremonial or ritual activity took place at the site, and intrusive burials suggest that the locations of earlier grave sites were preserved in cultural memory over some length of time.

TARL’s rehab work on the Harrell site collection has opened the door for future work on the site significant contributions to our understanding of North Texas in prehistory could be made by researchers:
• conducting usewear analysis of the stone tool collection,
• studying the assemblage in comparison to other sites, or
• close analysis of the ceramics, mussel shell, or bone artifacts.

These are just a few examples of the types of work that could be done using this collection. We hope that this work will spark interest in additional research on this site and other WPA-era collections housed here at TARL.

We hope to have a full report on our rehab work—including an online database with photos—available to the public through the TARL website very soon. We are extremely grateful to the THC for making this important work possible!

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!

Drawing a Culture in Transition: Plains Indian Ledger Drawings

tmm-1988-11a-blog

This richly detailed drawing from the Schild Ledger Book features two men, both carrying rattles and a fan and garbed in elaborate attire. Although a noted Plains Indian artist identified the figures as Kiowa dancers, the enigmatic German text written on the drawing reads, “Ollie Johnson daughter and grandson.” According to notes accompanying the ledger book when it was acquired by The University of Texas, Ollie Johnson was purported to be a Comanche woman who created the paintings. Labels such as these appear on most of the drawings, adding to the mystery of the book’s authorship. TARL Archives.

A new Spotlight feature on Texas Beyond History focuses on one of TARL’s most unusual collections. The Schild Ledger book comprises nearly 60 Plains Indian ledger drawings variously ascribed to the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche. Some are brilliant in color and detail, others mere pencil sketches that were never completed. Known as ledger drawings because of the paper on which they were drawn—typically ruled pages from account books acquired as a gift or through theft or trade—the art was created largely in the last third of the 19th century to portray heroic deeds, tribal traditions, and battles with U.S. soldiers and settlers as the Plains Indian way of life passed into history.

Much of what is known about the Schild Ledger Book raises questions—from the identity and tribal affiliation of the artist or artists who created the drawings, to the circumstances of the book coming into the possession of a purported Indian Agent from Fredericksburg, Texas, and ultimately to its being taken abroad to Germany.  In this Spotlight feature, we consider clues and possible answers and provide an online gallery of prime examples from the collection for researchers to examine further.

To read more and explore these drawings, see The Schild Ledger Book

Meet TARL’s New Curatorial Assistant: Lauren Bussiere

Lauren

Lauren at the Roman site of Jerash in northern Jordan, 2011.

As TARL’s new Curatorial Assistant, I’m excited to get to work rehabbing some of TARL’s great old collections and helping make all that material and information accessible to other researchers.

My background is mostly in Mesoamerican Archaeology, but I’m a Texas girl at heart and a Texas State alum (go Bobcats!). I have a deep love for Central America, Mexico, and the desert Southwest, which inspires me to help preserve the cultural patrimony of these areas and to help ensure that their stories are a part of our shared world history. As one of the largest repositories of cultural material from sites across Texas and beyond, TARL plays an important role in conserving invaluable material and information, facilitating dialogue, and promoting innovative research—and I am honored to be part of this great team!

As a graduate student in Anthropological Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego, I conducted field research in Belize, Mexico, and Jordan, as well as some CRM work in California. My Master’s work focused on warfare and defensive structures in the northern Maya Lowlands, building off my excavation of the site perimeter wall at the Late and Terminal Classic site of Chichén Itzá. My post-M.A. research included looking at intra-site exchange patterns across households at a minor Maya site in Belize, as well as research into chemical analysis methodologies for stone tools at Bronze Age sites in Jordan.

Working on such a range of projects, I gained a strong appreciation for the importance—as well as the difficulty—of ensuring that archaeological data is precise, detailed, organized, compliant, and most importantly, easy to interpret by future researchers. Part of my challenge here at TARL is to consolidate records from old projects, bring them up to contemporary standards, and organize them to facilitate future analysis. Meanwhile, I’m also working to update artifact inventories and ensure that these irreplaceable artifacts are stored in such a way that they will be preserved for many years to come. This is no easy task, given that some of TARL’s collections date from the days when archaeology was in its infancy!

In my spare time, I enjoy running, yoga, hiking, spending time with my husband and two cats, and gardening. I am also a hobby beekeeper, so please call me if you see a swarm that needs a good home!

Rhythm and Ritual: Traces of Music in Ancient Texas

By Susan Dial

Native peoples in Texas used a variety of instruments to create sounds and music throughout prehistory and into more recent times. Among TARL’s vast collections are a number of unusual artifacts likely used during rituals, ceremonies, and other events. Based on the contexts in which the instruments were found, many were used in burial rites. Ethnographic accounts provide additional insights about other circumstances in which similar instruments were played.

Crafted of wood, clay, bone, and other natural materials, the instruments’ design and construction provide clues to the powerful range of sounds they emitted. We can imagine the shrill notes of a flute or whistle, the eerily grating noise of a rasp, the quivering beats of a rattle, and hollow rhythms of a skin-covered drum. These otherworldly sounds accompanied shaman’s chants and set the pace for dancers and processionalists.

music-icon

Engraved whooping crane whistle (top) and more than 350 black drum teeth found in a cluster within a small circular area. The teeth appear to have been confined within a circular container, such as a gourd, and may represent a rattle. These items were recovered from the grave of two juveniles at the Mitchell Ridge site. Photo by Robert Ricklis. TARL Collections. (Click to enlarge for more detail.)

Among the more fascinating music-related artifacts at TARL are 11 bird bone whistles excavated from Late Prehistoric and early Historic period burials at the Mitchell Ridge site near Galveston. All are made from the ulna, or lower wing bones, of the whooping crane (Grus Americana). The bones are hollow with very thin walls, making them good candidates for modification into wind instruments. Whistles have a single air hole, rather than several air holes, distinguishing them from flutes. According to archeologist Robert Ricklis, who investigated and reported on the site, several of the specimens have plugs of asphaltum, a natural tar-like substance emitted from oil seepages beneath the Gulf of Mexico, which partially cover and narrow the air holes. This feature served to control the air flow and cause the whistling sound when the instrument was blown. Four of the whistles are decorated with finely engraved lines in geometric patterns. Similarly engraved whistles made of whooping crane and heron ulna have been found in Louisiana.

whistles

Drawings of additional whooping crane ulna whistles from the Mitchell Ridge site showing the detailed geometric designs engraved on the bones. Image from Ricklis 1994 (Fig. 18).

GV66-RR-F64-whistles

These undecorated whooping crane whistles were placed in the grave of a young man, 18-20 years of age, at Mitchell Ridge. Note the rectangular air hole cut into each whistle. Photo by Bob Ricklis. TARL Collections.

flute

Reed flute from the Perry Calk site, a rockshelter situated high above the Rio Grande in southwest Texas. Unlike whistles, flutes have more than one air hole. The cane-like common reed from which the instrument was made grows in abundance along streams and rivers and was used for a variety of purposes. Photo by Monica Trejo and Matt Peeples (AMIS 2794b). TARL Collections.

Artifacts interpreted as rattles are rarely found intact. In some cases, the enclosing container, such as a gourd, deteriorated over time, leaving only the rattle contents—small, regular items such as pebbles or clay balls that would have made an impressive sound when the container was shaken. Prime examples of this sort of extrapolated evidence come from the Mitchell Ridge site where four tight clusters of black drum teeth—interpreted as the contents of rattles—were found in burials. More rarely, rattles are recovered intact or nearly so. At the Caplen Mound cemetery site on the Bolivar Peninsula, a decorated turtle carapace was found laying in the burial of an infant. Drill holes in the shape of a “U” suggest the carapace served as a breast plate or rattle. The presence of several glass trade beads indicates the infant burial occurred in the early historic time period. At other south Texas burial sites such as Morhiss Mound, deer antlers and modified antler tips were found in burials, and these have been interpreted as rattles or tinklers, the latter perhaps appended to the clothing of the individual.

caplen

Tortoise shell rattle found in a child’s grave at Caplen Mound on the Bolivar Peninsula about 25 miles northeast of the present-day city of Galveston. The small shell, decorated with a series of drilled holes and containing several small pebbles, was found in the neck area of the child, and may have been worn suspended from a cord. TARL Archives.

caddo-rattle

This odd-looking clay bowl from a Franklin County Caddo site was crafted with four protruding hollow nodes containing small pebbles or clay pellets. When shaken, the bowl produces a rattling sound. Listen to the sound http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/tejas/images/rattle-bowl.wav. The bowl is Late Caddo (Fulton Aspect), ca. A.D 1400-1650. TARL Collections.

In addition to burial ceremonies, music and rhythmic sounds were important in other rituals. The Spanish priest Espinosa describes a healing ritual among the Caddo in which flutes and rasps were used. To cure a patient, according to his early 1700s account, they make a large fire and “provide flutes and a feather fan. The instruments [palillos-rasps] are manufactured [sticks] with notches resembling a snake’s rattle. This palillo placed in a hollow bone upon a skin makes a noise nothing less than devilish.”

According to Caddo tribal historians, numerous types of instruments—rattles, drums, and flutes—were played during rituals and dances, and some of these rich traditions continue today among peoples of the Caddo Nation.

YN1-MB83-lg

Marked with a series of carefully incised parallel notches, hollow bones such as these have been described as “tally bones,” or counting devices. More likely, they were rasps used as musical or ceremonial instruments. They were recovered from the Harrell Site (41YN1) in north central Texas.

mesquite8

This notched rasping stick from Conejo Shelter in the Lower Pecos region is made of mesquite wood. Photo by Monica Trejo and Matt Peeples (AMIS 23549).

Other historic accounts mention the use of musical instruments in battle and in hunting rituals. During a 1690s battle between the Cacaxtle Indians and the Spanish in what is now south Texas, an elderly Indian woman played a flute throughout, perhaps to buoy the spirits of the Cacaxtle warriors. As recorded by Spanish historian Juan Bautista Chapa, at the end of the battle more than 100 Indians lay dead and another 70 were taken captive. Noted Swiss-American ethnographer Albert Gatschet recorded peyote ceremonies associated with deer hunting among the Rio Grande Comecrudos. This ceremony was accompanied by music from drums and rattles and dancing from elaborately dressed shamans. Achieving a trance state through repetitive music, which typically involved rattles and chanting, was an important component of shamanic ceremonies.

Musical instruments played an important role in the rituals and spiritual life of native groups in the past. Witness accounts such as these help bring to life some of the mute artifacts in TARL Collections and provide colorful insights into how some of these fascinating instruments may have been used.
Learn more about sites mentioned in this entry:

For more information about the Mitchell Ridge site, see the multi-section exhibit on Texas Beyond History: http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/mitchell/index.html. The Credits page of this exhibit includes the full report of excavations by Robert A. Ricklis (1994 Aboriginal Life and Culture on the Upper Texas Coast: Archaeology at the Mitchell Ridge Site, 41GV66, Galveston Island; Coastal Archaeological Research, Inc., Corpus Christi) which can be downloaded as pdf files.
Caplen Mound http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/coast/images/ap4.html
Harrell Site http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/harrell/index.html
Cacaxtle Indians Attacked by Spanish http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/images/he10.html

La Belle

By Susan Dial & Rosario Casarez

Recently members of the TARL staff were treated to an “insiders’ tour” of the La Belle Shipwreck exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. In addition to seeing the colorful 4D film, Shipwrecked, loaded with the Bullock’s special sensory effects, we were given a close-up look of the ship’s hull as the massive reconstruction project continues.

Conservator Peter Fix works on the ship's hull. Photo by Rosario Casarez.
Conservator Peter Fix works on the ship’s hull. Photo by Rosario Casarez.

We were fortunate to see this part of the exhibit before it moves to its final resting place at the museum. The rebuilt remains of the ship and more than 40 original artifacts will be on display beginning August 8, 2015. Ultimately, museum visitors will be able to walk across a plexi-glass platform and look down into the hull. Special thanks to Jim Bruseth, who directed the years-long archeological project for the Texas Historical Commission and who now serves as curator of the exhibit, for coordinating this enjoyable and very educational outing.

Dr. Jim Bruseth, who directed shipwreck investigations, provides fascinating insights about the ship’s hull to members of TARL staff as restorers continue the reconstruction process. The ship was originally intended to be brought to the New World in pieces and reconstructed on site to go up the Mississippi River. Photo by Rosario Casarez.
Dr. Jim Bruseth, who directed shipwreck investigations, provides fascinating insights about the ship’s hull to members of TARL staff as restorers continue the reconstruction process. The ship was originally intended to be brought to the New World in pieces and reconstructed on site to go up the Mississippi River. Photo by Rosario Casarez.

Bruseth, along with Jeff Durst, Donny Hamilton, and historian Robert Weddle, also worked with us several years ago to create the exceptional online exhibits on La Belle and Fort St. Louis for Texas Beyond History. These multi-section exhibits provide detailed information on La Salle and the French in Texas, the events leading up to the small colony’s destruction, and the circumstances of their discovery and archeological investigations. In addition to galleries of artifacts from both the shipwreck and the site of the little “fort” in Victoria County, and full accounts of excavations at both sites, there is a special online viewing tool to explore the shipwreck and discover the artifacts just as the archeologists found them. If you are not able to visit the Bullock, be sure to visit the online exhibits on TBH—or better yet, visit both!

Detail of one of the ship’s timbers, showing  original Roman numerals identifying its intended position on the ship.   Because the ship was purchased by La Salle as a “kit”, each of the pieces were marked for easy assembly.  Photo by Rosario Casarez.
Detail of one of the ship’s timbers, showing original Roman numerals identifying its intended position on the ship. Because the ship was purchased by La Salle as a “kit”, each of the pieces were marked for easy assembly. Photo by Rosario Casarez.

To view the shipwreck online on Texas Beyond History http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/belle/index.html
To learn more about La Salle’s Fort St. Louis http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/stlouis/index.html
To learn more about the museum exhibit see http://www.thestoryoftexas.com/la-belle/the-exhibit

Archaeological Methods Workshop – Osteology

This week, TARL held the first workshop in a series about archaeological methods! We worked together with the UT Anthropology Department to further TARL’s educational goals and provide a collaborative space to enhance UT graduate students’ field skills. TARL Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka, and TARL staff Stacy Drake and Debora Trein led a 2 hour seminar on principles of osteology in archaeology, which included an in-depth discussion of topics such as NAGPRA legislation, cultural sensitivity awareness, and the duties of archaeologists to the state, the public, and stakeholder communities in private and academic settings. Best practices in excavation, analysis, and curation of human remains was also a topic of great discussion, as most workshop participants have had experience with human remains in archaeological contexts from all over the country and the world.

After the essentials of bone and teeth analysis were discussed, workshop participants were given the opportunity to hone their analytic skills by examining a number of specimens under TARL’s curation. The study of ancient human remains is an extraordinarily informative field, giving archaeologists a window into a person’s life. Human remains provide information that may include a person’s age, lifestyle, diet, place of dwelling, occupation, among and other highly significant knowledge about ancient lifeways. Importantly, human remains can also be employed to study entire populations over time. Human remains can provide archaeologists information about long-term trends such as the impact of the introduction of agriculture on a population’s health and nutrition, for instance.

This was the first of many workshops, which will hopefully be just as informative! Stay tuned for next week’s workshop on survey.

TARL at the 2015 Girlstart Girls in STEM Conference

Earlier this month, TARL staff had the pleasure of collaborating with Girlstart, an organization focused on empowering girls through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) educational programs. The conference brought together women experts from many STEM disciplines and approximately 600 girls aged 9 to 14 from all over the United States. The main goal of the Girlstart conference is promote STEM disciplines as a way to solve many of the world’s current issues, and to encourage young girls to become invested in STEM electives, majors, and careers. Girlstart’s mission is particularly important given the disparity between the recent increase of STEM jobs (currently growing three times faster than in non-STEM careers) and the absence of women in STEM disciplines (only 24% of STEM workforce is female)*.

 

As a lot of archaeological work is scientific in nature, we were more than happy to help Girlstart out! TARL staff Stacy Drake and Debora Trein, along with several amazing UT Anthropology and Geography graduate students, participated in the 10th Annual Girlstart Girls in STEM conference, bringing archaeology to two classrooms full of girls at Travis High School in a session called “Dig It! Adventures in Archaeology”.

DSC_0522

The Dig It! Team at Girlstart. From left: Debora Trein (TARL and UT Anthropology), Emily Dylla (UT Anthropology), Robyn Dodge (UT Anthropology), Angelina Locker (UT Anthropology), Samantha Krause (UT Geography), Stacy Drake (TARL and UT Anthropology), Luisa Aebersold (UT Anthropology), and Nadya Prociuk (UT Anthropology). Courtesy of Luisa Aebersold.

 

Luckily for us archaeology is a very exciting discipline, so it was not hard to get the attention of the students! We created two exercises that gave the girls a taste of archaeological research: mini-excavations with mock burials complete with burial assemblages; and a microscope station, with several “samples” to examine.

DSC_0543

Stacy Drake and Emily Dylla at the “commoner” mock burial. Courtesy of Luisa Aebersold.

DSC_0547

Debora Trein and Robyn Dodge at the “elite” mock burial. Courtesy of Luisa Aebersold.

 

We set up two mock burials with two sets of reproduction remains and burial goods (one “elite” and one “commoner”). We asked the students: “How old was this person?”, “Do you think that they were a man or a woman?”, “Do you think that they were rich or poor?”, “What do you think they did for a living?”, and other questions that form part of archaeological inquiry. Most importantly, we also asked “Why?” they came to their conclusions. This exercise was intended to get students to go through the archaeological thinking process by assessing all of the available evidence. After getting over the excitement of seeing reproduction human remains and artifacts, it was heartening to see the girls analyzing an archaeological deposit and defending their interpretations!

DSC_0539

Samantha Krause at the microscope station. Courtesy of Luisa Aebersold.

 

At the microscope station, the girls experienced the flip side to field work, which is laboratory research.  Using three microscopes, students examined many types of materials, including fabric, beads, shell, and sediment thin sections. The girls were able to see how clues that help us explain the lives of people in the past can be microscopic, and that every part of an archaeological context is important to a complete understanding of past societies. They also got to go through our tool kits and handled compasses, trowels, and rock picks!

DSC_0549

Nadya Prociuk answering questions. Courtesy of Luisa Aebersold.

 

At the end, we held a Q&A session for the girls. It was important for us to relay that in addition to love of discovery, knowledge about people in the past can only come from hard work (both physically and intellectually), collaboration, and respect for material remains that we handle and the people they represent. Archaeology is fun, empowering, and it is definitely for women!

 

We are looking forward to the 2016 Girlstart Girls in STEM Conference! Bring it on!

 

To check out Girlstart’s great work, go to www.girlstart.org

 

To explore some of TARL’s extensive educational resources on Texas archaeology, go to www.texasbeyondhistory.net

 

* www.girlstart.org

Finding Microwear Patterns on Stone Tools: Marilyn Shoberg, TARL Microwear Analyst

Featured image: Microwear analyst Marilyn Shoberg examines a stone tool under a microscope in the TARL laboratory. She typically makes observations at magnifications ranging from 50X to 500X and captures potentially diagnostic wear traces with a digital Moticam camera.

by Marilyn Shoberg

After receiving my MA in Anthropology from UT-Austin,  I joined the Gault Project at TARL in 2000 and began doing microwear analysis, looking at experimental tools and archeological tools from the Gault Site. Some of the stone artifacts in an archeological assemblage are formal tools that have recognizable shapes such as projectile points, bifaces, or endscrapers. Many more artifacts appear to have been used, however, and unless we look at them under the microscope we can only guess at what their function may have been.

When a stone tool is used the edge is gradually worn away by the loss of flakes and abrasion, and the surface is modified by contact with the worked material so that it appears shiny or polished.  Microwear analysis is a systematic process of recording wear traces such as edge flaking, the surface characteristics of polish, and the orientation of striations on a stone tool in order to determine how that tool was used.

The research microscope used at TARL for this analysis is an Olympus BH2 reflected light microscope with Nomarski optics. Observations are made at magnifications from 50X to 500X.  Images of potentially diagnostic wear traces are captured with a digital Moticam camera.

Microwear analysts learn how to identify the various attributes of wear traces by looking at experimental tools used in many different tasks on a wide variety of materials.  It is absolutely essential for every analyst to do experiments and to acquire a reference collection of tools used in tasks relevant to prehistoric human behavior.  The comparative collection of experimental tools we have at TARL is a terrific asset for analysis and teaching.  It has grown from the work of many former students here at UT, archaeologists and friends of archaeology.  The collection includes tools used on plant materials, several kinds of wood, bone, antler, elephant ivory, hide, and butchering a variety of animals.

Patterns of wear on replicated stone tools used for woodworking are shown at a magnification of 500X. The three tools--an adze and two flakes--were crafted by a modern knapper and used for different tasks on different types of wood. Experimental tools such as these provide a comparative baseline for discerning microwear patterns on ancient tools, determining how they might have been used, and on what materials.
Patterns of wear on replicated stone tools used for woodworking are shown at a magnification of 500X. The three tools–an adze and two flakes–were crafted by a modern knapper and used for different tasks on different types of wood. Experimental tools such as these provide a comparative baseline for discerning microwear patterns on ancient tools, determining how they might have been used, and on what materials.

 

In addition to a large number of Clovis tools from the Gault Site, I have analyzed artifacts from a number of CRM projects in Texas, and sites in Arizona, Illinois, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Belize.

In archaeology we attempt to understand past human behavior from material culture, however only a very small fraction of that material culture survives.  The things that people made from perishable organic materials such as plants, wood, bone, and skin are for the most part missing from the archaeological record.  The fascinating aspect of microwear analysis is that the tools used in the manufacture of the “missing majority” of that perishable material culture provide clues to the kinds of things people were making at particular places.

Among the most interesting tools I have looked at are a small Clovis age flake used to incise bone, tools used to pierce animal skin, perhaps in the manufacture of clothing or shelter, and small prismatic blade fragments used in fine cutting or scraping tasks on grass, reed and wood.  Sometimes you find an example of a recycled tool like a used-up projectile point re-purposed as a scraper or abrader on animal skin.

You are welcome to contact me to learn more about the research I conduct and to discuss my availability to contribute to projects under contract.  My contact information is below:

Marilyn Shoberg

Microwear Analyst

Texas Archeological Research Laboratory

The University of Texas at Austin

1 University Station R7500​

Austin, Texas 78712

mbshoberg@mail.utexas.edu

 

The Texas Archeological Research Laboratory