The past two weeks involved hands on work that I was able to do on the rehousing project of our naturally preserved mummy. Working with cardboard boxes, duct tape, and other tools, I was able to come up with my first rough idea for both the outer box and inner sled. Upon further work, both Kerri and I decided that an additional inner sled would be needed. Hope to keep you all updated as we make more progress!
Check back later in the week as Truc continues to design and engineer protective long-term housing for this delicate set of remains as she continues her research into best practice for creating stable, preservation micro-environments for organic objects.
Sometimes even the smallest of creatures can provide big insights. Dr. Ken Brown, an archeologist and TARL Research Affiliate, has been on the trail of snails for decades. From these seemingly inconsequential mollusks, a wealth of data about past environments at archeological sites can be gleaned. Simply put, different species of snails can thrive in different environmental conditions. By determining which species were present at a given time, he can reconstruct what the climatic conditions were like over time. His observation of snails (species, habitat requirements, species densities and distributions, etc) allow him to contribute invaluable insight into site formation and transformation over time, evidence of bioturbation, possible signs of cultural utilization, and especially paleo-environmental reconstruction.
The processes involved in snail analysis is painstaking and often tedious, involving screening sediment samples through a series of increasingly fine-grained mesh, picking out the shells, sorting by size, and finally identifying them. Good eyesight is a must for this job: some snails in his samples are less than a millimeter across, and specimen storage is in gel caps, not plastic bags. For archeologists, however, this sort of information can be invaluable—and often the only available indicator of past environments.
Ken’s research interests are hardly limited to snails, however. He also is a specialist in prehistoric wooden artifacts, having studied (and identified) dozens of the snares, traps, curved sticks, dart shafts and other enigmatic items from TARL’s perishable collections. His detailed drawings, descriptions, photos and lab notes of these remarkable artifacts now fill very large ring- binders—the makings of a publication long awaited by other archeologists.
Ken’s interest in archeology can be traced back to his teen years participating in Texas Archeological Society field schools. He has been at it ever since. Awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, he has worked in the field for nearly 40 years and mostly at sites in Texas, but also in New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois and New York. Ken’s dissertation on the Berger Bluff site in Victoria County provides unique insight into the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene climatic history of the coastal plains of Texas. For that site—and many of the others he’s worked on—he did multiple types of analyses, analyzing not just mollusks, but myriad other fauna, lithics, etc.
Ken also has contributed substantive content to Texas Beyond History, including the McFaddin Beach exhibit (“This Site Is All Washed Up!”) http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/mcfaddin/index.html and a “mini-exhibit” on Berger Bluff http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/images/ap5.html. In the past several years, he has also served as a TBH reviewer; his broad expertise and eagle eye as an editor have been greatly appreciated. His current work is focused on a project at the Genevieve Lykes Duncan site in Brewster County, one of only a few sites with Paleoindian-age deposits in the Trans Pecos.
In subsequent blog posts, Ken will share some of what he has learned about snails… and many other subjects, we hope!
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!
History frequently repeats itself, often with an ironic twist or two. Currently there is a minor furor brewing over a proposed “strip club” just blocks from Austin’s City Hall. As reported in a February 13, 2015, article in the Austin American-Statesman, several members of a downtown Austin alliance are protesting the plan, arguing that this sort of business is not part of the vision held for that area. But 125 years ago, this sort of business was not only a “vision” for downtown Austin, it was the norm.
What has now become Austin’s trendy warehouse district, the headquarters of the City Council, and high-rise offices of Computer Sciences Corporation was once known as “Guytown,” an infamous red-light district peopled with prostitutes and sprinkled with bars and saloons catering to city and state leaders, among other visitors. Extending roughly from Colorado and San Antonio Streets on the east and west, and 1st and 3rd Streets on the south and north, the area originally had been a genteel neighborhood in Austin’s core; by the 1870’s it had begun its descent into a notorious red light district.
In 1876, the Austin Daily Statesman reported that two women arrested for keeping a brothel threatened to expose several of their high-powered clients, among them city council members, legislators and businessmen whose patronage tacitly supported the operations. Although the area was a tinderbox for violence and drunken sprees, many other stories played out among those at the opposite end of the economic scale—the laundresses, blacksmiths, porters, maids, and others who lived and worked in Guy Town. Unlike today, affordable housing was not an issue; there were no restrictions on the size or upkeep of the wooden shanties and alley cribs in which many made their homes.
The growth of businesses such as Calcasieu Lumber Company, a gradual rise in industrial development, and a change in the city’s master plan in 1928 gradually changed the area and brought about the demise of Guytown. Seventy years later, another city plan, styled as a “smart growth initiative,” was to bring about a wholescale and radically upscale change in character for the district.
In advance of the new construction, archeological and archival research investigations were conducted by Hicks & Company over a five-city block area, including the lot that now holds the modern, copper-clad City Hall building. Prior to excavations, most of the extant buildings were razed from their lots, including the iconic Liberty Lunch. Spared from the wrecking ball was Schneider’s Store, now home to an upscale barbecue restaurant. Archeologists conducted only minor tests around the perimeter of that building, unlike the massive excavations on the other blocks.
TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis and I were part of the project. I ran the mobile laboratory headquartered on one of the blocks, while Jonathan worked on the complex series of excavations, which moved from block to block as each was completed. It was a massive undertaking led by Project Archeologist Rachel Feit and Principal Investigator James Karbula. I was amazed at the variety of artifacts that flowed daily into our small trailer lab—and the provocative and often poignant activities the items reflected. Along with the remains of champagne and beer bottles, gaming tokens, bullets, and “hygiene” equipment for the prostitutes came pieces of china dolls and children’s toys.
Thousands of artifacts were recovered, quickly classified, counted, and logged into our mobile laboratory computer. The great majority—sherds of glass, rusted metal bits, and other unidentifiable materials that clearly had been mass produced and held no diagnostic value, were buried on the site, as part of a policy arrangement with the Texas Historical Commission. The most significant (or diagnostic) artifacts are now curated in TARL Collections, along with the maps, records, and photos accruing from the investigations. It is a collection that holds enormous potential for researchers and students interested in urban archeology and demographic change.
TARL is gearing up for Explore UT on March 7th. Explore UT is touted as “The Biggest Open House in Texas”. It’s a campus-wide event with hundreds of activities for visitors to enjoy. TARL is participating in the festivities after a few years’ hiatus, but we are back in full force with lots to do for young and old. And we will be joining forces with a group of dedicated UT anthropology graduate students who have carried the archeology torch for the past couple of Explore UT’s.
Rosario expertly demonstrating the technique for making cordage during Explore UT to a group of children…who were carefully gauging younger siblings and asking astute questions about tensile properties.
Here’s a sampling of what we’ll have to offer: pottery mending, corn-husk doll making, rock-art painting (on cardstock), Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphic writing and an artifact “ooh and ahh” table. We will also have several grinding stations set up with manos and metates, so you can try your hand at corn grinding. And there will be a skeleton show-and-tell table. (The skeleton will be a replica; unfortunately, no mummies will be participating.)
Besides these outdoor activities, there will be two indoor lectures presented by TARL staff:
– Susan Dial, our Texas Beyond History editor, will talk about what ancient Texans ate in “Texas Beyond History: Detectives Into the Past”.
– Jonathan Jarvis, TARL’s associate director, will present “The Role of Maps in Archeology: Past, Present and Future.”
So come out and pay us a visit; we’ll be on the east side of the main UT campus in the Liberal Arts Building Courtyard. The talks will be held in the Liberal Arts Building, room 1.104. Here’s more information about this event – https://exploreut.utexas.edu/.
On January 1, 2015, TARL changed its collection policies, including separation of collections and required forms. These changes to the policy and associated forms are now posted on our new website. The old url should redirect you, if not, this is the address: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/tarl/.
On Tuesday, March 24 at 1 PM, I will be holding a short overview of the new requirements, as well as explaining the reasons for the changes, and providing some limited training in how to prepare a collection. We will also have a short segment on records if anyone would like a review of those stipulations. I ask that you all download the policies and review them before the meeting. We will meet in the conference room upstairs in the main TARL building unless we get inundated in which case we will move to the “A” portable.
I’d appreciate a heads up on who is likely to attend. Please email me with a confirmation of attendance for the workshop if you plan to attend. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you should have any questions about the amended collections policies, the workshop or getting to TARL.
I look forward to speaking with you all at the workshop!
I’ve been working with one of our visiting researchers in the Human Osteology collection to provide information that may assist them in determining potential descendant populations of the Akikosa and Atakapa. Making use of resources such as Texas Beyond History, our indispensable site files and archeological reports, as well as publicly available resources drawn from the UT libraries, the THC’s documentation on tribal claims and contacts (http://www.thc.state.tx.us/project-review/tribal-consultation-guidelines/tribal-contacts) and the online NAGPRA Native American Consultation Database, I can help researchers make connections between archeologically represented indigenous people and potentially descendant modern Native American groups. Being able to make those connections allows researchers to investigate topics like cultural evolution, affiliation and identity, gene flow and admixture, and provides a larger context for their specific research goals. It’s really exciting when the collections at TARL support what the documentation is telling us and a clearer image of the past begins to take shape.
There is a group of people who self-identify as being descendants of the Atakapa who are currently in the process of applying for federal recognition as a Native American tribe (“Atakapa-Ishak Nation”).
“We were called Atakapa by the Choctaw. The name was used by the Spaniards and French colonizers in Louisiana, as a slur word to refer to the Ishak people. This gave us a reputation and rumor of being “man eaters”, which continues through today. We, the descendants of the Atakapa-Ishak Indians exist unrecognized and misnamed under various names of choice like Creoles, Creole Indians, and Creoles of Color. The term “colored” has clouded our racial identity. Atakapa-Ishak descendants show a wide range of complexions which is attributed to the genes for light or brown complexions. Many Atakapa-Ishak no longer know their correct racial identity.”
TARL has long served as ‘the facility’ within the state of Texas where archeological collections of every size, in every state of preservation imaginable, and with any number of associated files (or the loudly-cursed lack thereof) have come to curated down through the decades as Texas archeology has evolved in theory and methodology from the large-scale excavations of the WPA era to satellite imagery and LIDAR of remote piloted drones conducting survey. As modern methodology in the field of archeology takes us further and further away from the days of ‘collect everything as you go’ toward an uncertain future where acrheological data and interpretive value are measured in terabytes, server space and 3D printing potential, we here at TARL carefully consider the research value and volume of the collections resting on the shelves. Unlike the tiny digital footprint resulting from the virtual reconstruction of an excavation, the collections here range in footprint from the Herrera Gates to a 15′ long dugout canoe, to 40lb. metates and countless projectile points. It can take your breath away if you stop to consider what lies inside the drawers here…4,000 years of human occupation caught in a snapshot, framed with carefully spun cordage, meticulously worked (and reworked) projectile points, and rabbit sticks worn smooth by countless calloused hands. To the archeologically-uninitiated the drawers hold curiosities made of stone, wood and bone. To those of us who have the privilege of calling TARL our “place of employment” these curiosities are the remnants of a distant past that was recorded in rock art and pictographs as opposed to cellulose and pixels. But it takes time and resources to curate these irreplaceable artifacts of human history from our great state. We are a small staff dedicated to the care of millions of artifacts and miles of site reports and archeological records. As we have done so many times before, we are looking for volunteers.
Marybeth Tomka, the Head of Collections at TARL, is interested in accepting volunteers to help her carry out the ongoing collections management tasks that allow these artifacts to retain their significance in history and prehistory. Collections, and artifacts at the individual level, are only of research value if they are properly recorded in documentation and entered carefully into a relational database that retains this critical information and makes it work for the researchers. Marybeth is responsible for seeing that all of the archeological collections which have been collected over many decades continue to be well-cared for and continue to be accessible to visiting researchers and archeologists. Students who volunteer at TARL are provided hands-on training in archeological collections processing, artifact identification and some laboratory methodologies (when she has the time). If you are a student interested in archeology, anthropology and/or museum collections management, the skills she can teach you through her volunteer program will assist you in your future professional endeavors. Don’t let the off-campus location deter you. The experience will prove well worth it and you’ll have the chance to work various prehistoric and historic collections and learn valuable skills from a trained professional archeologist. If you get your geek on the same way we do, if you want to have the chance to see the drawers that hold the history and contribute to our ongoing projects, contact Marybeth Tomka, Head of Collections at email@example.com.
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.
Above image: Forrest Kirkland’s watercolor depiction of the art at Rattlesnake Canyon in the Lower Pecos is one of the dozens in TARL’s collections that have been scanned for viewing online on Texas Beyond History.
In 1933, artists Forrest and Lula Kirkland began a study of the extraordinary rock art of Texas. Working chiefly on weekend camping trips, the couple’s interest developed into a mission that was to span 10 years. Their epic journeys took them across much of the state, from the mountains of the Trans Pecos, to rocky bluffs along the clear streams of the Edwards Plateau, to the rugged canyonlands of the Lower Pecos. Wherever prehistoric peoples had found a stone canvas for their expression, the Kirklands traveled to examine and document the artwork. Early on, the two perfected the recording techniques that allowed them to capture the ancient pictographs and petroglyphs on canvas: Forrest carefully measured and sketched the art to scale in pencil, then adding water color to match the paintings on rock. Lula, meanwhile, drove, scouted for sites, photographed the art, and performed many camp chores.
The dozens of watercolor paintings that emerged from this near-Herculean effort are preserved at TARL for researchers to examine and compare to the ancient art today. Because of the careful documentation techniques the Kirklands employed, these paintings—now over 80 years old—constitute a critical record of the ancient art and are treasures in themselves. Much of the rock art observed and painted by Forrest Kirkland has since been damaged if not destroyed by natural forces and human vandals. Small details and even whole sections of paintings copied in the Kirkland watercolors no longer exist today.
The great majority of the Kirkland watercolor collection have been digitally scanned and is available for viewing on TARL’s website, Texas Beyond History, along with substantive discussion about the prehistoric and historic period painters and their cultures. Galleries of Kirkland’s renderings of the monumentally scaled Lower Pecos rock art can be viewed in detail at http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/artistic/trail.html; that of the surprisingly diminutive works at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos can be seen at http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/hueco/gallery.html. Further discussion is provided in a section on artistic expression of the Trans Pecos: http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/trans-p/artistic/index.html and Lower Pecos http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/artistic/index.html. Spanning at least 4,500 years, Texas’ ancient rock art paintings are a window into the spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions of the past. At the other end of the spectrum, we can view through native artist’s eyes the coming of early Spanish explorers and priest and mull the cultural upheaval that lay in store at that long ago time.
Did You Know?
The first paintings done by Forrest Kirkland were of Paint Rock in central Texas. Not knowing who to consult about them, the artist sent J. E. Pearce, then chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, black and white photographs of the paintings. Pearce was enthusiastic about Kirkland’s work and invited the Kirklands to visit him in Austin before archeologist A. T. Jackson left for a summer in the field. Jackson was then collecting data for his work on The Picture-Writing of Texas Indians and Pearce thought a meeting of the two men should be profitable for both. Lula Kirkland wrote:
“We went down and showed him the original paintings and enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them. Mr. Jackson considered getting Forrest to go with him on field trips as an artist, to paint the pictographs. But we preferred to go out on our own during our vacations.”
From The Rock Art of Texas Indians by Forrest Kirkland and W. W. Newcomb, Jr. (University of Texas Press, reprinted edition 1999).