by Kerri Wilhelm
The January 2015 issue of the Texas Exes publication, The Alcalde, included an article written by Rose Cahalan entitled “The Things They Carried: Inside the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory.” Ms. Cahalan of The Alcalde and photographer Anna Donlan recently visited TARL for a tour of our collections. The article begins by describing their initial reaction to being shown the ‘Hunter’s Pouch’ collection of artifacts excavated by A.M. Woolsey in Val Verde County during 1936. It continues with their experience of observing Dr. Deborah Bolnick selecting skeletal elements for aDNA sampling in our Human Osteology Collection (where we use only archival boxes, not “cardboard boxes”) and segues to their description of the Vessel Collection.
Reading Cahalan’s article was a good reminder for those of us on staff that there is a very perceptible difference between the lens through which we view the collections as professional stewards and archaeologists, and the lens through which non-archaeologists view them. Of course, we manage and break down the archaeological collections here to their most granular typologies, classifications and descriptions; identifying discrete flaking techniques utilized, ceramic vessel decorative phases by time periods and skeletal elements most likely to provide collagen viable for stable isotope and aDNA analyses. It is easy enough for us to forget that, to the ‘uninitiated,’ TARL at first appears like a great many older campus locations: starting to show its age, relegated to the outer margins and slowly beginning a descent into obscurity. This is the part where we urge you to look more closely.
The Alcalde article is a reminder to us that it is not only our task to serve as stewards of these irreplaceable archaeological and ethnographic collections; it’s also our job to step out from behind the boxes and endless research-driven academic minutia to remind people why it’s important for us to do what we do. We need to remind people why the objects here are as significant historically, culturally and temporally as we say they are. We need to help make Texas archaeology, and its rich material culture, more accessible to everyone. We here at TARL hope this blog helps to evidence this philosophy of increased access as we strive to bring you highlights from our collections, records and research being undertaken. We hope that sharing these things, in addition to any shared insights by affiliated researchers or guest contributors, become something ‘you can carry with you.’
You can find The Alcalde article in its entirety here:
The staff here at TARL would like to thank Anna Donlan, a photographer who contributes to the Texas Exes publication, The Alcalde, for granting permission to display her photographs here.