Category Archives: News & Outreach

TARL Flintknapping Workshop

This Saturday, TARL held another free, hands-on workshop for experimental archeologists and those interested in learning more about prehistoric lithic technologies. Our flintknapping workshop was led by expert knappers Chris Ringstaff of TxDOT and Dr. Robert Lassen of Texas State University. A dozen or so workshop participants, ranging from undergrads and first-timers to seasoned knappers and professionals, showed up to try their hand at flintknapping.

The instructors covered a variety of knapping techniques including hard- and soft-hammer percussion, pressure flaking, and indirect percussion. They brought several hundred pounds of our local Edwards chert and other raw materials for participants to use. Everyone had a fun day and gained some new insights into prehistoric stone tool production, lithic analysis, and subsistence techniques.

Thank you to our incredible instructors for putting so much time and effort into making this a great workshop!

If you have suggestions for future workshops that would benefit you as a student or archeological professional, please let us know! We want to continue providing useful and fun opportunities to the community.

TARL Staffing Update: Farewell, Dr. Drake!

This week, TARL is sad to say goodbye to one of our staff.  Dr. Stacy Drake, TARL’s Staff Osteologist and NAGPRA Coordinator, has left us for a great new opportunity to work at the Field Museum in Chicago. Stacy will be working on osteological analysis and NAGPRA consultation and repatriation work at the Field Museum.

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Dr. Stacy Drake teaching future archeologists about burials at the Texas Archeology Month Fair in October 2016.

During her time at TARL, Stacy oversaw the rehabilitation and analysis of many human remains in the TARL Human Osteology Laboratory. She also mentored numerous students and volunteers, and assisted with several tribal consultations on NAGPRA and repatriation issues. Stacy will be greatly missed at TARL but we wish her all the best in her new position!

For the time being, all inquiries regarding human osteological research or NAGPRA should be directed to TARL’s Head of Collections, Marybeth Tomka (marybeth.tomka@austin.utexas.edu).

 

Upcoming Events for Spring 2017

TARL is looking for student researchers and volunteers for two upcoming events this spring semester. Want to present your independent research or share your love of archeology with others? Here’s your chance!

UT Research Week 2017
April 19-21

UT Research Week is a chance for undergraduates to present their research and find new research opportunities. This year, TARL will be hosting a table at the Longhorn Research Bazaar (April 19) for students who want to present research. We’ll also be passing out information about volunteer and internship opportunities at TARL during this event. If we have a lot of students with research they want to share, we may organize a symposium as well!

If you’re interested in presenting research or helping disseminate information at this event, please get in touch with us today!

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Explore UT 2017
March 4

Explore UT is an annual event designed to give young students a taste of university life. TARL joins in the fun every year with several tables full of hands-on archeological activities. This year we’ll be doing rock art, beaded bracelets, and more. We need volunteers to help! Students and adults are welcome; no experience needed.

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To volunteer for one of these activities, please email us at FriendsofTARL@utexas.edu, or leave a comment below.

We hope to see you there!

TARL News & Upcoming Events

What a year it has been at TARL! We’ve had some amazing research done using our collections, had some wonderful students come through here as work-studies, interns, and volunteers, built our community of volunteers and supporters, and brought our love of archeology to hundreds of people through our public outreach.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us with all these activities, and especially to those who have volunteered their time to help us out. We could never have accomplished what we have without you!

TARL’s offices will be closed for the winter holiday beginning December 23, 2016. We will reopen on January 2, 2017. We wish you all a lovely holiday and a happy new year.

Happy Holidays from TARL! TARL Staff (L to R): Librarian May Schmidt, Registrar Rosario Casarez, Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka, Director Brian Roberts, TexSite Coordinator Jean Hughes, Administrative Assistant Diane Ruetz, Staff Osteologist & NAGPRA Coordinator Stacy Drake, Curatorial Assistant Lauren Bussiere, and Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis.
Happy Holidays from TARL! TARL Staff (L to R): Librarian May Schmidt, Registrar Rosario Casarez, Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka, Director Brian Roberts, TexSite Coordinator Jean Hughes, Administrative Assistant Diane Ruetz, Staff Osteologist & NAGPRA Coordinator Stacy Drake, Curatorial Assistant Lauren Bussiere, and Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis.

TARL Student News

TARL Staff Osteologist and NAGPRA Coordinator Stacy Drake completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology from UT. Her dissertation topic was an analysis of more than 120 burials from various sites in northern Belize, identifying various mortuary patterns. We are so proud of you, Dr. Drake!

TARL Human Osteology Lab Intern Lauren Koutlias graduated this December with special honors in Anthropology. She plans to pursue graduate education beginning next school year. Way to go, Lauren!

TARL Collections Intern Sheldon Smith will take over as President of the UT AnthroSociety in the spring 2017 semester. We look forward to you recruiting more volunteers for us, Sheldon!


Public Outreach at TARL

In 2016, TARL reached more than a thousand individuals through our public outreach efforts. These activities included:

  • Hands-on activities at the annual university-wide open house, Explore UT.
  • Guest lectures and workshops by TARL staff at UT and Texas State, as well as for the UT AnthroSociety.
  • Hands-on activities at the annual Girls in STEM Conference as well as at summer camps hosted by local STEM education nonprofit Girlstart.
  • A new tradition: the Texas Archeology Month Tailgate, leading up to the Texas Archeology Month Fair, both in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission and other groups.
  • Participating in Russell Lee Elementary’s career fair for 3rd-6th graders.

TARL also had the honor of hosting representatives from various Native American tribes and nations, and participating in a joint meeting with multiple tribal representatives from throughout the US Southwest and South. We are dedicated to improving working relationships with Native American communities and we are grateful for the perspectives and involvements of these various groups.

TARL's Jean and May teach button-making at Explore UT 2016.
TARL’s Jean and May teach button-making at Explore UT 2016.

Upcoming Events

  • January 4-8, 2017: Society for Historical Archaeology  Annual Conference, Ft. Worth, Texas.
  • January 7: Public Archaeology Day at SHA, Omni Hotel, Ft. Worth, Texas.
  • January 14-15: TAS Canyonlands Academy, Langtry, Texas. Registration deadline is January 2.
  • Now through February 25: “Tutankhamun: Wonderful Things from the Pharaoh’s Tomb” exhibit at Texas Museum of Science & Technology, Cedar Park, Texas.
  • February 25-26: TAS Ceramics Academy, Jacksboro, Texas. Registration deadline is February 10.
  • March 4: Explore UT, Main UT Campus, Austin, Texas.
  • April 29-30: TAS Technology in Archeology Academy, Fredericksburg, Texas. Registration deadline is April 14.
  • June 10-17: TAS Field School at San Lorenzo de la Cruz, Camp Wood, Texas.

Have news to share?

New job? New research? Plans for graduation or retirement? We want to hear from you!

We are also looking for stories about your experiences at TARL from the 1960s to the 2000s.

Email us or comment below to submit your news and stories.

Year-end Membership Discounts! Join the Friends of TARL Today!

Preserve Texas’ archeological legacy with your year-end giving.

The Friends of TARL helps create public outreach and educational opportunities.
The Friends of TARL helps create public outreach and educational opportunities.

The Friends of TARL is a membership organization that supports the work of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. In this time of funding cuts for research and education, your support can help TARL preserve archeological collections, provide educational opportunities for students, protect endangered archeological sites, and build public awareness and engagement in archeology.
If you haven’t joined the Friends of TARL yet, now is a great time!

From now through December 31, we’re offering 10% off all Friends of TARL memberships.

Member benefits include our quarterly newsletter, discounts on TARL merchandise, scholarship eligibility (for students), and invitations to TARL events. Membership costs are tax-deductible. All funds from Friends of TARL memberships will be used directly for scholarship and public outreach costs–not for salaries or overhead.

Regular Membership: $50 (NOW $45)

Retiree Membership: $30 (NOW $27)

Student Membership: $20 (NOW $18)
(Currently enrolled undergraduate or grad students only, please)

Click here to join the Friends of TARL. 

Important: Choose “Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL)” under “Sub Department” to ensure that your donation goes to TARL.

Learn more about the Friends of TARL.

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:

 

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Llano Uplift Archaeological Society

 

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

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TARL Staff Visits the Texas State Forensic Anthropology Research Facility

by Lauren Bussiere

TARL Staff and FACTS researchers Dr. Michelle Hamilton and Courtney Siegert at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, Texas State University-San Marcos.
TARL Staff and FACTS researchers Dr. Michelle Hamilton and Courtney Siegert at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Recently some of TARL’s staff members had a unique opportunity to visit the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University—informally known by the public as the “body farm” but referred to as the “decomposition facility” by the researchers—and learn about the amazing research going on there. This facility and its associated labs are the home of some of the most cutting-edge forensics research happening in Texas. A huge thank-you to Dr. Michelle Hamilton, Courtney Siegert, and the rest of the staff and students at Texas State who took the time to show us around and share their research.

FACTS and its associated facilities provide training opportunities for law enforcement officers, and they collaborate with outside researchers studying taphonomic processes, recovery methods, and more. They also offer a great training and research program for Texas State students interested in forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology. Much of the research at FACTS uses the remains of people who donate their bodies. Learn more about FACTS and their various programs on their website.

One of the most interesting programs going on at FACTS is their Operation Identification or “OpID” program, which works to identify the remains of individuals who have died crossing into Texas from the Mexican border. The OpID staff and students analyze these remains and collaborate with other organizations, including the Border Patrol, FBI, NGOs, and international groups, to match the remains with reported missing persons and eventually return the remains to their families. Since 2013, the program has completed analysis of approximately 100 individuals, with 10 positive IDs made and returned to their families. Although it was heartbreaking to hear the stories of these migrants who perished while searching for a better life, we are humbled by the hard work and dedication of everyone who volunteers their time and effort to contribute to this important work. Find more information on OpID, including volunteer opportunities, through their Facebook page.

We at TARL are always glad to have the chance to get out and see what our colleagues and counterparts are doing, so that we can learn about new research and begin new collaborations.

Thank you, FACTS and Texas State!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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”.

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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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