All posts by Lauren Bussiere

Student Spotlight: Sheldon Smith

As part of TARL’s Texas Archeology Month series, we’re introducing some of our great student workers, interns, and volunteers.


Sheldon

Excavation of structure in Belize. Part the Programme for Belize Archaeological Research Project 2016.


My name is Sheldon Smith and I am currently in my fourth year studying Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin. This semester I have had the amazing opportunity to catalog and study figurines from ancient Mexico as part of my student internship at TARL. As a result, I’ve had the chance to interact closely with many different types of figurines from various sites including places like Teotihuacan. This internship has also vastly increased my knowledge concerning the ceramic technologies and culture of ancient Mexican civilizations, as well as the preservation and collection processes.

I have always enjoyed history, but my interest in Archaeology began when I found various early 20th century artifacts in association with the creek behind my house. When I started taking classes at UT, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to pursue a career in Archaeology. My sophomore year I joined the Anthropological Society, where, over the past three years, I have had the pleasure of interacting with like-minded students from all four subfields, and I am now honored to be their current Vice-President. The Anthropological society also exposed me to many different professors and researchers in the field, and opened my eyes to all of the archaeological opportunities the university has to offer. One such opportunity was when I worked with Dr. Peter Fix on the La Belle restoration project at the Bob Bullock Museum. I learned a great deal about conservation and gained insight into a very important part of Texas history that I previously knew very little about.

At that time, I still did not know exactly what aspect of Archaeology I wanted to focus on. That all changed this past summer, when I attended UT’s Belize Archaeological Field School, as part of the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (PFBAP). There, I finally got to get my hands dirty and excavate at a Maya site named La Milpa. I rediscovered my passion for Archaeology and became very interested in architecture as well as ceramic technologies. I would like to work with these aspects of Archaeology in my future career, and plan on returning to the site next summer as a junior staff member to gain more knowledge about these topics. After I graduate, I plan on taking a year or more off to work in Cultural Resource Management, in order to gain more field experience. Then my plan is to apply to graduate school in order to pursue a Ph.D. in Archaeology. My hope is that I will someday work in Mesoamerica doing what I love, so that I can gain a greater insight into the lives of the people that lived there and preserve their history.

Why protect archaeological sites?

41CE19-C6676_300 Archaeological excavation at the George C. Davis site in Texas.

As archaeologists, many of us tend to assume that others understand the intrinsic value of archaeological sites, and that in general, people want to protect archaeological resources. At the same time, we know there are many sites out there getting looted each day as well as a thriving market in antiquities. In this essay, we take a brief look at the ethics behind preserving archaeological sites, the difference between scientific excavation and looting, and how to talk to non-archaeologists about cultural heritage management.
One important reason to preserve and document archaeological sites is that, in some cases, it’s the law. In Texas, laws prohibit excavation on state land without a permit. Federal land has several statutes that apply to cultural resources including the disturbance of human remains.
Read more about laws that protect sites in Texas.
What about sites not protected by state and federal laws? Sites on private property in Texas can, legally speaking, be excavated by anyone at the discretion of the landowner. So why not dig them up? Isn’t that what archaeologists do?
It sounds disingenuous, but as archaeologists, we actually want to do as little archaeology as possible.
We know that without our intervention, some sites are very vulnerable and can be destroyed either through construction, natural disasters such as floods, or natural processes like erosion. Because archaeological materials are a non-renewable resource (we can’t go back in time to make more sites), we absolutely want to document any sites in danger of being destroyed. Other than those sites in immediate danger, though, archaeologists typically only want to dig at sites that have a strong potential to answer research questions rooted in anthropological theory and fill in the gaps in our understanding of the past. Beyond that, we want sites to be left alone.
Read the Society for American Archaeology’s Principles of Archaeological Ethics
Doing a scientific excavation is costly, time-consuming, and destructive to the site. Responsible archaeologists are keenly aware of the fact that their work does irreparable damage to the site and that they only have one shot to get it right. They also know that, with new analytical techniques being developed at a rapid pace, future researchers may be able to learn much more about the same site–but only if there’s still something left to excavate. For these reasons, modern archaeologists typically try to do as little excavation as is possible to answer their research questions, and they collect as much data as possible from these minimally intrusive excavations.
Non-scientific excavators–looters–do the opposite of this.
To a trained archaeologist, an archaeological site is much more than the artifacts that come out of the ground. Often we are less interested in the potsherds or arrowheads and more interested in the chemistry of the soil, the sequence of construction, or the relationship of one object to another within the excavation. Removing artifacts from their context or digging with the sole purpose of recovering artifacts to collect or sell destroys all of this valuable information forever.
Once an artifact is removed from its archaeological context, its value to archaeological researchers is greatly reduced. While we all love looking at a beautiful artifact, there is much less information to be gained from an item out of context than one recovered with accurate provenience data. This idea seems straightforward, so why is there a persistent trend for folks to focus on the beauty of a few objects and ignore the site and context?
We could blame everyone’s favorite pop-culture archaeologist, who destroys entire temples to steal a single artifact. Or we could look at how we communicate. 
To an archaeologist, it can be disheartening to watch someone’s eyes glaze over when you start to talk about phytoliths or microwear, only to see them perk up at the mention of ancient aliens. The public fascination with sensationalized archaeological ideas comes out of both a long history of sensational archaeology and the way archaeology is taught to the general public. Even up to the mid-twentieth century, archaeology was full of self-aggrandizing explorers on quests to find Atlantis or Mu, and early excavations were often massive, rushed, and focused on finding the most magnificent artifacts. Ever since Schliemann had his wife model the jewels of Troy, the public has had the perception of archaeology as not too far distant from treasure hunting. We can all agree that gorgeous ceramics, painted sarcophagi, and intricate weapons are just more captivating to look at than dirt and debitage.
Museums, as wonderful as they are, sometimes unintentionally contribute to this paradigm.  Although the intent of most archaeology museums is to provide education, they are typically able to do this only through displaying artifacts–you just can’t move an archaeological site into a museum! The best museums provide lots of contextual information, which allows visitors to appreciate the artifacts for much more than their artistic value. When people only have access to archaeology through museums, it is no wonder they focus on the artifacts rather than the sites themselves.
Learn about Barcelona City History Museum–an archaeology museum with only a handful of artifacts on display.
It’s up to archaeologists to meet the public where they are and acknowledge our sensational past. As much as we want to roll our eyes at archaeological conspiracy theories or shoeboxes full of arrowheads, being dismissive even of misguided archaeological interests is counterproductive. We can channel folks’ enthusiasm into productive discussions about preservation, but only by first acknowledging that these artifacts and ideas are, in fact, really neat and fun to think about. We can talk about modern archaeology and resource management by sharing our passion for the “boring” aspects of archaeology–excitement, even about mundane things, can be contagious.
This October for Texas Archaeology Month, archaeological sites, historical sites, and museums across Texas are opening their doors to the public, to engage in exactly this kind of dialogue. Throughout this month, archaeologists across the state will be sharing their expertise and their life’s work with students, families, and anyone who wants to learn. We invite you all to join us as we celebrate archaeology in Texas and beyond.
Plan your visit to archaeological sites, talks, and events today!

 

If you want to learn more about responsible, scientific archaeology, there are lots of ongoing opportunities to engage with the local archaeological community. Check out the Texas Archaeological Society or a local society, or contact your local university. TARL also has lots of volunteer opportunities available and we’d love to have your help.

Get involved with the Texas Archaeological Society
Volunteer at TARL! 

Reintroducing the Friends of TARL!

After several years of hiatus, TARL is excited and proud to reintroduce the Friends of TARL

 

FriendsLogo1

 

Every day, TARL works to protect and document archaeological sites, collections, and historic records. We provide important educational opportunities to students so they can build their future careers. We ensure that millions of artifacts are cared for, that new sites are documented correctly, and that new research can be done.

We need your help!

 

Membership in the Friends of TARL is a way to show your support for the work we do at TARL, sustain our work through vital financial contributions, and stay connected with what’s new in Texas archaeology. The Friends of TARL Member benefits include:

  • Invitations to TARL events;
  • Discounts on TARL merchandise;
  • Subscription to our new quarterly e-newsletter.

Our goal is to have 100+ new members join during the month of October–Texas Archaeology Month. Join us today!

 

Join the Friends of TARL today as a Regular Member (one-time gift of $50 or just $4.17 per month for 12 months) or a Pedernales Member (one-time gift of $100 or $8.33 per month for 12 Months).

Sign me up! Regular Membership–Recurring 

Sign me up! Pedernales Membership–Recurring

Special memberships are also available for current Students ($20) and Retirees ($30). Students who join will be eligible for Friends of TARL scholarships. Higher tier memberships are also available; see membership tiers below. Follow the instructions below to sign up as a Student, Retiree, or a higher tier member.

Sign me up! One-Time Gift

Instructions for one-time gifts:

  • Follow the One-Time Payment link above.
  • Ensure that the space labeled “Gift Area” reads “Liberal Arts, College of.”
  • Choose “Texas Archeological Research Laboratory” from the next drop-down menu, labeled “Sub Department.”
  • Enter your desired gift amount. The minimum to become a Regular Member is $50. Student memberships are $20 and Retiree memberships are $30.
  • In the Special Instructions box, please specify if you are a Student or Retiree. If you are a current UT graduate or undergraduate student, please enter your EID. If you are a currently enrolled student at another university, please list your university.
  • Click “Continue” to complete your payment information and submit your membership.
  • Thank you for joining the Friends of TARL!

 

TARLMemberLevels

Announcing the Texas Archeology Month Fair!

TARL is excited to announce that in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission, we’ll be hosting a public Archeology Fair to celebrate this year’s Texas Archeology Month! This exciting event will take place on Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. here at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. Our Fair will feature hands-on activities for kids and adults, demonstrations from experimental archaeologists, and displays that highlight Texas’ rich archeological history.

Fair Details:
Date: October 22, 2016
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Cost: FREE!

The Texas Archeology Month Fair will be held at the main soccer field on the Pickle Research Campus.
See the map below for location & parking details.

The Pickle Research Campus is located in north Austin near the Domain shopping center, just west of MoPac at the corner of Burnet Road and Braker Lane.
The Pickle Research Campus is located in north Austin near the Domain shopping center, just west of MoPac at the corner of Burnet Road and Braker Lane.

 

Planned booths and activities for the fair include:

  • Mock excavation units
  • Flintknapping (making stone tools)
  • Atlatl throwing
  • Osteology & mock burials
  • Native plants
  • Rock art
  • Fire drilling
  • Ancient foodways
  • Artifact identification
  • Exhibits on various archaeological sites in Texas
  • And much more!

We need volunteers to help this day go smoothly! To volunteer as either an activity leader, table presenter, or general volunteer, please email lauren.bussiere@utexas.edu.

 

Thank you to our event partners:

 

thc_main_logo                                                            tcasLogo

TAS_Logo

newlogo-black

288px-TXDOT.svg

Llano Uplift Archaeological Society

 

IMG_5126
TARL staff and our community of professional archaeologists love teaching the public about archeology. We are all excited for this fun event!

Explore2016-18