Nadya Prociuk is an Affiliated Researcher at TARL. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter.
For the past several months, TARL’s own Lauren Bussiere and I have been working with the A. E. Anderson Collection, which has been housed at TARL for more than 65 years. A. E. Anderson was a civil engineer based in Brownsville, and over the course of his career he surveyed and collected from around 200 sites in the Rio Grande Delta, both in Texas and Tamaulipas. Anderson’s collection contains over 2, 000 prehistoric artifacts such as shell ornaments and tools, chipped stone tools, bone, groundstone, and ceramics. Thanks to his lifetime of work, Anderson’s collection is the most significant resource currently available for the study of the cultural prehistory of the Rio Grande Delta.
Several researchers have worked with the Anderson Collection over the years, though none have completely inventoried or analyzed the collection up to this point. T. N. Campbell studied the collection when it first arrived at the University of Texas in the 1940s, and Richard MacNeish also used the collection as a starting point for his definitions of the Brownsville and Barril Complexes. In the 1970s Elton Prewitt re-surveyed the Anderson sites located in Cameron County, and compiled an inventory of the artifacts from those sites. Multiple salvage and cultural resource management projects have been undertaken in the Rio Grande Valley that have added to our understanding of the archaeology of the area. Unfortunately, work with Anderson’s collection stalled until the late 1990s when William J. Wagner III completed a Master’s thesis on the ceramics in the collection. With his research Wagner confirmed Gordon Eckholm’s early assessment that a number of the ceramics in the Anderson Collection actually came from the Huastecan region of the Mexican Gulf Coast, suggesting significant long-distance trade ties with that area. Though other research has been done in the Rio Grande Delta area since that time, such as Tiffany Terneny’s Doctoral dissertation analyzing local burials, Wagner’s ceramic analysis was the last substantive work done with the Anderson Collection until now.
Nearly a year ago Lauren approached me about an opportunity to contribute to an upcoming edited volume on trade and cultural interaction in North America, and suggested using the Anderson Collection to look at potential interactions between the Rio Grande Delta area and the Huastecan region. We decided to collaborate on the paper, which has proven to be an unexpectedly rich undertaking. Our goal in writing the paper has been to understand the nature of the interaction between the cultures of the Rio Grande Delta and the Huasteca, including what types of items they may have been trading. We have also sought to provide an example of how cultures which may be considered marginal, such as those of the Rio Grande Delta, can be active participants in wider economies of trade and exchange. An added benefit of our research is also to raise the profile of this archaeological region both within Texas and farther afield, since it is often ignored in favor of other areas. We have submitted the first draft of our chapter to the editors, and publication is expected sometime in 2019. In addition to our book chapter, we will be presenting our research at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Washington D.C. this April, and are looking forward to spreading the word about this fascinating region and getting feedback on our research.
While conducting the research for these projects it became clear to us that though the Anderson Collection is an invaluable resource for the study of the archaeology of the Rio Grande Delta, no comprehensive inventory has been completed since Anderson was in possession of the collection. Such an inventory, with up-to-date classifications, artifact counts, locations, and site information, is a necessary step towards TARL’s goal of making this collection accessible to future researchers. To that end I have been working with the collection since January, and have been fascinated particularly with the abundant use of shell both as ornament and also for tools. It is clear that the people of the Rio Grande Delta were adept at utilizing the abundant marine resources at their disposal to craft a variety of utilitarian and decorative items, and that this shell industry was likely a key element in their interaction with outside groups. It is our hope that through this work the Anderson Collection will become a productive and useful resource for future study of the Rio Grande Delta area, and that others will begin to take a more active interest in pursuing research in this intriguing area.
TARL’s staff is working hard to digitize many of our old records, including the many hundreds of pages of professional and personal correspondence from some of the greatest minds in the history of Texas archeology.
Dr. E. Mott Davis was a professor in the UT Anthropology Department from 1956 into the 1990s, and was a well-known face in the Texas Archeological Society. He was a major figure in Plains archeology and is fondly remembered by many of his students.
We thought we’d share the following delightful exchange between Dr. E. Mott Davis and Dr. Alfred E. Dittert, Jr., of New Mexico State University.
The publications and manuscripts housed at TARL are a great resource for all types of researchers. The TARL library is one of the Texas Historical Commission’s repositories for cultural resource management reports completed under an Antiquities Permit. At TARL, reports and manuscripts are for in-house use only from Monday through Friday, 8AM to 5PM. Please call or email before you come to use the library at TARL, so that staff may better help you. There is no fee for library use.
Many of the older reports and manuscripts held by TARL are difficult to locate elsewhere, but are available at TARL to researchers once they have been vetted by TARL staff. Although the library collections’ focus is Texas Archeology, a somewhat more limited collection of archeological reports from other areas of North America is available.
Examples of older Texas manuscripts and reports in the TARL library are those by George C. Martin, Edwin B. Sayles, James E. Pearce, Arthur M. Woolsey, and Alvin T. Jackson. TARL holds archeologically-related thesis and dissertations dating as far back as 1919; most but not all of these are from The University of Texas at Austin. TARL’s library collections has many of the early reports from universities, museums, state and federal agencies, archeological contracting firms, and archeological societies as well as several archeological and anthropological journal series. The library houses reference materials concerning archeological field and laboratory methodology, historic architecture, biology, geology, and geography.
Several of the older Texas Archeological Survey (TASP/TAS) and TARL reports are still available to be purchased and some reports have been scanned. The scanning of these reports is a continuing process and reports are scanned by TARL staff as time permits. Please check with the staff about the reports available if you need a report from one of these series.
This month, TARL students, donors, and volunteers had a chance to visit downtown Austin and see the historic buildings and excavation areas uncovered during excavations of Austin’s Guy Town district in the 1990s. TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis led the tour and talked about his experiences working on this project and the challenges of doing archeology in an urban environment. The massive archeological project covered four city blocks under what is now Austin’s City Hall and Second Street district–a part of town that in the 1870s–1910s was full of boarding houses, brothels, saloons, and gambling halls mixed in with the homes of working-class families and everyday business ventures. The tour group started the day with a look at some of the many artifacts recovered by archeologists, which included telltale signs of the lively atmosphere–beer and liquor bottles, poker chips, and dice–as well as the items lost or left behind in the course of everyday activities, such as sewing needles, children’s toys, and dishes. The artifacts recovered by this project are curated at TARL.
We then visited the downtown site, where we learned a bit about the geomorphology of the Colorado River and the terrace where downtown Austin sits. Finally, we got to check out the few remaining historic structures in the area. A highlight of the field trip was a visit to the Schneider Beer Vaults, built by German immigrant J.P. Schneider, who dreamed of starting a brewery. The historic building across the street was also owned by the Schneider family and operated as a general store. We also learned a bit about another downtown historic site, the Susanna Dickinson Hannig House, where Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson lived out her last days. The Dickinson-Hannig House was also excavated during downtown construction in the 1990s, and is now a small museum near the Austin Convention Center.
Special thanks to Josh Prewitt, General Manager of La Condesa, and the La Condesa staff for welcoming us into their space so we could see the underground beer vaults, a unique gem of Austin’s history.
Field trips like this one are a special perk of membership in the Friends of TARL! Join the Friends of TARL to receive invitations to special events in 2018.
Timothy K. Perttula is a visiting researcher at TARL. This article was part of the September 2017 TARL newsletter.
In the summer of 2017, 21 ancestral Caddo ceramic vessels held since 1933 by the Gila Pueblo Museum and then by the Arizona State Museum were returned to the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin (TARL). These vessels had not been properly or fully studied and documented when the University of Texas exchanged these vessels, so the purpose in documenting these vessels now is primarily to determine the stylistic (i.e., decorative methods, motifs, and decorative elements) and technological (i.e., vessel form, temper, and vessel size) character of the vessels that are in the collection, and assessing their cultural relationships and stylistic associations, along with their likely age. In 1933, little was known about the cultural and temporal associations of ancestral Caddo ceramic vessels from East Texas, but that has changed considerably since that time (e.g., Perttula 2013).
Ceramic Vessel Exchange
Harold Gladwin of the Gila Pueblo Museum (GPM) in Globe, Arizona, first proposed to The University of Texas (UT) an exchange of ceramic materials in November 1931 with Dr. J. E. Pearce of UT. Pearce was not prepared to exchange any ceramic vessels or sherd collections then because the ceramic materials in his possession had not been studied because they had only recently been recovered from excavations at East Texas Caddo sites.
However, by November 1933, Pearce felt an exchange of Southwestern vessels with ancestral Caddo vessels between the GPM and UT was worth doing, and 20 Caddo vessels from eight East Texas sites were selected by E. B. Sayles of the GPM. After Pearce obtained permission from UT President H. Y. Benedict and the Board of Regents, the vessels were shipped to the GPM. The eight ancestral Caddo sites that had vessels selected for the exchange included the Richard Patton Farm (41AN26, 2 vessels); Goode Hunt Farm (41CS23, 2 vessels); Mrs. H. L. Culpepper Farm (41HP1, 1 vessel); H. R. Taylor (41HS3, 7 vessels); T. M. Sanders Farm (41LR2, 2 vessels); Hooper Glover Farm (41MX4, 1 vessel); Russell Bros. Farm (41TT7, 1 vessel); and the J. M. Riley Farm (41UR2, 4 vessels). The vessels remained in Arizona museums until the summer of 2017.
The exchanged vessels from the T. M. Sanders site are from burial features in a Middle Caddo period (ca. A.D. 1200-1400) Sanders phase mound on the Red River. They include a Maxey Noded Redware bottle (Figure 1) and an East Incised bowl.
The fine ware and utility ware vessels from the Culpepper Farm, H. R. Taylor, Hooper Glover, Russell Brothers, and J. M. Riley sites are from Late Caddo period Titus phase sites (dating broadly from ca. A.D. 1430-1680) in the Big Cypress and Sulphur River basins in East Texas. The fine ware vessels include Ripley Engraved (Figure 2) and Taylor Engraved carinated bowls, a Wilder Engraved, var. Wilder
bottle, a Bailey Engraved olla, a red-slipped bowl, and Ripley Engraved compound bowls, while the utility wares are Bullard Brushed, Harleton Appliqued (Figure 3), and Karnack Brushed-Incised jars.
Finally, the ceramic vessels from the Richard Patton and Goode Hunt sites are from late 17th to early 18th century Historic Caddo burial features in the upper Neches River and Big Cypress Creek drainage basins, respectively. These burial features were in cemeteries created and used by Hasinai and Nasoni Caddo peoples. The historic Caddo ceramics from the Richard Patton site include two different varieties of Patton Engraved (Figure 4), while both vessels from the Goode Hunt site are Simms Engraved carinated bowls (Figure 5).
Thanks to Lauren Bussiere and Marybeth Tomka at TARL for facilitating access to the study of these vessels, and for providing photographs of the vessels taken by the Arizona State Museum. Kevin Stingley kindly assisted with the vessel documentation. All photos courtesy Arizona State Museum.
Perttula, T. K.
2013 Caddo Ceramics in East Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 84:181-212.
Dr. D. Clark Wernecke is the Executive Director of the Gault School of Archeological Research. This article appeared in TARL’s newsletter in two parts. Part I was published in the July 2017 issue and Part II was published in the September 2017 issue.
James Edwin Pearce was a true renaissance man. Born in Roxboro, North Carolina in October of 1868, Pearce moved with his family to Hunt County, Texas in 1871 (Denton 2016). He graduated from the University of Texas (there was only one then) with a B.A. in Literature in 1894 and an M. A. the following year. He began doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, then switched his studies from history and sociology to anthropology, continuing to study intermittently while he began a 22-year long career as principal of Austin High School in Austin. He also studied for a year at the School of Anthropology in Paris in 1900. Pearce began teaching at the University of Texas in 1912 and became a full-time professor in 1917, and in 1919 became the department chair, changing the name of the department from Institutional History to
Anthropology (Denton 2016). He conducted some of the first professional archeological excavations in the state, fostered some of Texas’ up-and-coming archeologists, and was a champion for the discipline of anthropology and archeological research. Pearce was also the instigator and pushed for a State Museum in Austin in the late 1920s and did establish the first anthropology museum at UT (Tunnel 2000), contributed to the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society (Pearce 1932), patented a new kind of plow (patent #1,111,613), and was known as a grower of improved varieties of pecans (Bedichek 1928). One of J. E. Pearce’s most famous publications was Tales that Dead Men Tell, published in 1935 (Tunnell 2000).
Mr. Pearce was interested in the burned rock middens of central Texas and in October of 1929 he sent Henry Ramseur, his field foreman, and three laborers to the Gault farm to excavate the large midden there. He later described it in a nomination for National Park status as:
“One of the largest mounds of its kind in Texas. A portion of the mound has been excavated yielding an abundance of beautiful flint artifacts. Funds available do not permit complete excavation. The site is being destroyed by haphazard digging of landowner and others who dig the specimens for sale.” (Pearce 1934).
Pearce’s excavations lasted eight weeks in the fall of 1929 and it is possible Mr. Ramseur returned alone in March of 1930 (Barnard 1939). The crew excavated about a third of the midden by their account and recovered over 3,000 artifacts and two fragmentary human burials. The midden was hand-excavated by broadcast archaeological methods employing shovels as the primary excavation tool. This excavation strategy included a base line incorporating a “zero point” (site datum) laid out parallel to the long axis of the site. Along this baseline five to ten foot square units were established in a continuous row with workmen assigned to each square. They hand dug the trench in each square along the baseline running the length of the site where possible. The trench is estimated to between 1 and 1.5 meters (m) deep based on photographs of the work (Figure 2). The initial trench was just wide enough to allow an individual in the trench to carefully examine the contents of the wall opposite from the baseline. Cultural artifacts were handpicked from the one wall, and following that, the collected wall was knocked down into the bottom of the trench and those sediments were shoveled up and out and spread across the ground, where they would again be searched for artifacts.
The excavators worked away from the baseline and the digging progressed through the midden deposits. The in-situ artifacts removed from the walls were recorded as “low”, “medium”, or “high” according to their vertical position in the wall. Pearce described his methodology in detail in a “Handbook for Field Work in Archaeology” (Pearce Collection, n.d., Pearce Papers, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin). Following Pearce’s excavations, the trench evidently remained open for some time as attested to by the correspondence between James Pearce and Henry Gault held in TARL archives regarding backfilling. Mr. Gault filled the trenches for Professor Pearce in February of 1931.
In 1932 Mr. Pearce described the archaeology of the mounds he was excavating at the Gault site. He was convinced the “burnt rock mounds” of central Texas were “kitchen middens” that sometimes also held human burials. He thought he recognized three stratified cultures: “the lowest a crude pure hunter type, the middle a higher hunter type with a great multiplicity of flint implements but without the bow and with little if any horticulture, and the upper layer culture is essentially a hunter type.” (Pearce 1932:49). Mr. Pearce felt the highest strata, with flint tools, potsherds, and grinding stones, represented a cultural adaptation of people moving into central Texas from east Texas and gradually reverting to nomad
hunters. The Pearce excavations revealed a broad, dense burned rock midden that was at least 2 m thick and yielded mostly Archaic artifacts.
The only records of this work are a few photographs and two short reports to Dr. E. T. Miller, Director of the Fund for Research in the Social Sciences at the UT (Pearce 1930a, b). Although some artifacts were traded by Mr. Pearce during ensuing years, the remainder of the artifacts, numbering 3,332, and two human burials are housed today at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at UT in Austin. The artifacts recovered from the Gault site were identified by Mr. Pearce using one of 15 terms, with roughly two-thirds of the total identified as either spear or arrow heads. Some of the more unusual terms assigned to the recognized artifacts were “war club spikes” along with “hoe,” a “bone crusher,” and a “limestone ornament.” The Pearce collection was reexamined in 2004 for the first time since 1930 and reclassified and identified using modern terms and categories by Elton Prewitt, a renowned Texas projectile point analyst and longtime Texas archaeologist. This updated analysis identified 37 diagnostic projectile point types from Paleoindian Wilson points to Late Prehistoric Darl/Zephyr types with representative artifacts from all known cultural time periods in between. Statistically the Archaic point types clearly dominate the Pearce collections. In contrast, only one Wilson and no Clovis types were represented. Except for the projectile points, very few other specimens are time diagnostic although a Clovis blade was recognized. Other tool classes represented include bifaces, scrapers, unifaces, drills, gouges, choppers, adzes, modified flakes, and a few bone specimens that include awls, billets, and hammerstones. Ground stone is minimally represented by 10 manos and one metate.
As was the custom at the time J. E. Pearce traded artifacts collected from the Gault site as typical central Texas artifacts to other archaeologists and researchers in return for artifacts from their area. A small collection, for example, is in the Huntington Library in
California. He also traded 22 projectile points from the Gault site for some Caddoan pottery. J. Alden Mason of the University of Pennsylvania Museum visited Pearce during his “Texas and Southwest Expedition” (also known as the Hering Expedition). In a letter from October of 1929, Mason wrote he was “from Tuesday night until yesterday (Saturday) with Dr. Pearce at the University there. He took me to several of his excavations where I collected a few things and he promises us a good selection from his material in return for some of our publications” (A. Mason to H.H.F. Jayne, letter, 12 October 1929, Museum Texas Expedition papers, University Penn Museum). Seventy-eight lithic artifacts from Florence, Texas listed as coming from the “Dr. Pearce Mound” and “Henry Gault Mound” are in the University Penn Museum (curation lots 29-27-817 to 894) (Allessandro Pezzati, personal communication 2014).
In a 1934 preliminary survey that led to the National Park Service (NPS) Park, Parkway, and Recreational Area Study Act of 1936 the NPS asked for information on recreational and historical resources. Pearce was quick to write a recommendation for the “Gault Burnt Rock Mound” and noted that he regretted that funds were not available to completely excavate the site. We don’t know if he intended to revisit the Gault site as his dream of building a first class museum in Texas, the Texas Memorial Museum, finally came to fruition and in June of 1938 he was appointed the first director. James Edwin Pearce died on October 22, 1938.
Barnard, Helen, D.
1939 Early History of Research in Texas Archeology by the Department of Anthropology, and the history of the Anthropology Museum of the University
of Texas. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin.
2016 “They are Hauling off Bits of Texas”: James E. Pearce and the Effort to Establish a State Museum. Southwestern Historical Quarterly 120(2):146-161.
1928 Off-Sides. Interscholastic Leaguer. 12(4): 2. Austin, TX
Pearce, James E.
1930a Report to Director E.T. Miller, Fund for the Research in the Social Sciences, February 2, Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
1930b Report to Director E.T. Miller, Fund for the Research in the Social Sciences, November10, Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
1932 The Present Status of Texas Archeology. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society, 4:44-54.
1934 Response to National Park Service Archeological Survey. Manuscript on file, Pearce Collection, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin.
2000 In Their Own Words: Stories from Some Pioneer Texas Archaeologists. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 71:1-146.
Laura Cruzada, Lee Reissig, and Marisol Espino are guest authors from the Texas Department of Transportation’s public archeology outreach program. This article is part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter.
On June 19th, 1865, the news that slaves were free finally reached Texas. Every year, communities gather to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in Texas. This Juneteenth, we highlight an exceptional story of freedom that is featured on Texas Beyond History.
Through archeological investigations, you can read about Duval, the once thriving community of freed African-American slaves. This community was located in what is now the interchange of Loop 1 and Parmer Lane in north Austin. When a highway extension was planned near the interchange in the 1980s, TxDOT archeologists utilized old maps, records, and an aerial photo from 1937 to identify the location of a historic farmstead.
In Duval, freed slaves Rubin and Elizabeth Hancock purchased farmland where they raised their five children. Elizabeth and Rubin Hancock were both born into slavery in the 1840s in Tennessee and Alabama, respectively. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Hancocks, along with Rubin’s three brothers, all belonged to Judge John Hancock, a unionist who fiercely opposed secession despite his reliance on slave labor. Judge Hancock was even removed from office after being elected to the state legislature in 1860 for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Rubin and his three brothers bought land north of Austin, possibly with the help of Judge Hancock. It was here that Elizabeth and Rubin established a productive community of African-American farmers complete with a church and school for their children. According to family members, Elizabeth and Rubin’s home was made of lumber, with two rooms under the main roof and a separate addition which contained the kitchen. Rubin’s granddaughter, Mable Walker Newton, remembers the two main rooms having large glass windows and wooden shutters. Water was hauled in from a well, cooking was done on a cast iron stove, and kerosene lanterns illuminated the log cabin. The family raised cows and pigs, grew cotton, and harvested a large garden. With the help of the A&NW railroad, beginning in 1881, surplus was transported and sold to local store owners in Austin.
The addition of the A&NW railroad also brought new families. The growing community came together at St. Stephen’s Missionary Baptist Church, where in addition to worship and other social gatherings, classes were taught. In the evenings, large social gatherings with neighbors, friends, and relatives could be expected. The children would find entertainment with marbles, baseball, and homemade cardboard dominoes. All of this was confirmed through intensive investigations and research, now available to the public on Texas Beyond History. The families of Duval achieved a level of success that most people of their time – African-American and Whites alike – did not. The Hancock brothers in particular were landowners and each worked their own farms. The brothers were all registered to vote, and each married and raised a family. While Elizabeth Hancock passed away in 1899, Rubin continued live and work on the farm into his sixties until his death in 1916. The Hancocks’ descendants continue to live in the Austin area today. Rubin’s three surviving children kept the farm until 1942 when the house was removed from the site.
By the time that TxDOT archeologists arrived to investigate the area, all that remained on the surface was a well, a chimney hearth, and sections of a fence and stone wall. Excavations at the farmstead revealed possible stone piers of the house, trash areas, along with scatters of artifacts. The 9,000+ artifacts provided archeologists with an idea of the farmstead layout and an insight in to day-to-day life on the farm. Excavated marbles show what sorts of games children enjoyed playing. Recovered items such as combs and buttons provide a visual of the local trends. A canine burial even lets it be known that people in Duval loved their furry companions just as much as modern Austinites. In addition to cultural remains, oral histories and archival information was gathered to better visualize the Hancock family and farm.
As TxDOT continues to work and build a safe and reliable transportation system, the Cultural Resources Management (CRM) program considers the impact of projects on archeological resources and historic properties like the Rubin Hancock Farmstead– resources we know can be important to communities across the state.
The bag from Horseshoe Ranch Cave, with its fascinating contents shown in order of their removal by analysts at the University of Texas in 1936 . Radiocarbon dated to ca. 4200 cal. B.P., during the time that the monumental Pecos River Style rock art began to flourish, the cache offers a rare–if enigmatic–glimpse into the traditions of Lower Pecos people. Reflecting both the mundane and sacred, the bag has been described as a hunter’s pouch and a medicine bundle. Photo by James Neely, TARL Archives.
Caches and burials connect us in a very personal way to past events and the traditions of ancient cultures. In 1936, archeologists from The University of Texas working in the arid Lower Pecos canyonlands of southwest Texas uncovered what they described as “a find of unusual interest”: a twined-fiber bag, filled with an array of objects, and still securely fastened after more than 4000 years. Recent studies of this TARL collection, including technical analyses of stone and bone tools and radiocarbon assays of plant remains, are helping to unlock some of its secrets. More than 80 years after its discovery, we are featuring this rare and little-known collection as a Spotlight feature on Texas Beyond History and rethinking its significance and meaning.
Learn more about this fascinating collection: http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/spotlights/hunterspouch/hunterspouch.html
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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!