Category Archives: TARL Staff

WPA Highland Lakes Records Update by Annie Riegert

Annie Riegert is a Curatorial Technician at TARL. This article is part of the June 2018 TARL newsletter.


An ongoing digitization and records inventory project is underway at TARL. Under a 2017-2018 Texas Preservation Trust Fund (TPTF) grant, the project targets excavation and survey reports conducted in the late 1930’s as a subset of the larger Works Projects Administration (WPA) project. In the wake of the Great Depression and much needed employment, the program offered jobs on public works projects including archaeological survey and excavation throughout the country. Today, we are working on archiving the product of the WPA survey and excavation in Highland Lakes Area with a focus on Lakes Austin, Buchanan, and Travis. Further artifact analysis was conducted by the University of Texas in the 1960’s. Interest in the WPA project has produced many reports and analyses in various forms including records on microfilm. A database, which willhouse all excavation and survey data, will facilitate a more robust understanding of the extent of the WPA project in our local area. Additionally, digitization will enable greater access to records while also ensuring long term document preservation. We are looking forward to sharing the finished project for further research into the history of archaeology in central Texas.

Archive document depicting stone tools found at a WPA site in Travis County.

Goodbye to Flash! Changes Underway for Texas Beyond History by Susan Dial and Steve Black

As many of you know, we have been hard at work for the last two years with UT’s Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) trying to bring our 17-year-old website, Texas Beyond History, into the 21st Century. We are happy to report that this complicated “makeover” is nearly complete and promises both esthetic and functional improvements. The project transforms our main entry portals as well as educational activities and interactive graphics originally programmed in Adobe Flash into a more modern technology accessible on many more platforms. This will allow viewers –whether in the classroom or in the field–to use tablets and, to a lesser extent, cell phones, to engage in TBH’s interactive learning activities, open interactive charts and maps, and fully utilize the resources of the website. TBH will have a fresh, new look but more importantly should function more smoothly.

Website technology has advanced exponentially since the founding of TBH in 2001, when Steve and I, along with student website developer Meg Kemp, unveiled the website and the first 20 site exhibits. At the time, we were excited to offer many interactive features for maps, graphics, and student learning activities using Flash technology. The “cat’s meow” for its time, this program provided exciting tools to incorporate animation and other interactive capabilities in maps and graphics (e.g. opening up stratigraphic layers in a profile map). Unfortunately, Flash is no longer being supported by many browsers and has been dropped altogether by Apple and some newer Android devices. Viewers who use Apple products, particularly iPads and Mac books, may have been encountering blank pages where our traditional TBH interactive maps and Kids Only revolving carousel should be.

As further complication, TBH was designed for “mousing” on a desktop or laptop, before touchpad navigation came into vogue. Many of our interactive scenes where users “mouse over and click” on segments of paintings to access more detailed information and site-specific photos of evidence (ie., Frank Weir’s remarkable painting of a prehistoric burial scene from Loma Sandia cemetery) cannot be utilized on these devices. As might be anticipated, this is a particularly critical problem in the classroom, and for K-12 teachers in particular, as schools increasingly are providing individual tablets for student use. For LAITS, the process has been especially challenging due to the volume of Flash content on TBH and markedly different formats in each of the Flash activities. There has been no “one size fits all” solution to reprogramming this content. Over the last year, however, LAITS web developers engineered a process to strip out content and imagery and then recreate the 40+ interactives using HTML5.

Along with the technical changes, there also will be a new look for TBH. Instead of the interactive Texas sites map, TBH will soon have a colorful and streamlined portal for accessing all of the website sections. (A revamped version of the familiar TBH map page will be accessible in a section called Site Explorer and made functional for all browsers.)

Rollout of our revamped website is slated for sometime this Fall (2018). This is particularly important because TBH is heavily used in university archeology classes as well as in 4th and 7th-grade classrooms. We continue to receive emails from Social Studies teachers who have been stymied by the non-working Flash activities, but are anxious to once again use educational interactives such as “Through the Eyes of the Explorer: Cabeza de Vaca on the South Texas Plains.” Older students (even university students, according to Texas A&M professor Alston Thoms,) have used the kids Flash activity “Stratification in Action!” to better understand complex stratigraphic processes such as that which occurred over thousands of years on the Medina River at the Richard Beene site, on which the activity is based.

This summer (with Steve back at TARL just in time for the TBH review process!) we will continue testing the updated website, checking new functions, and kicking the tires, so to speak. It is a painstaking process with numerous technological bugs lurking in the 60,000+ files that comprise TBH. Fortunately TBH Associate Editor Heather Smith and Education Advisor Carol Schlenk have been able to join in the effort. While change can be difficult (if not agonizing), we at TBH are determined to embrace the opportunity to usher this much loved and critically acclaimed public education website into the modern era. We are grateful for the time and dedicated efforts of the LAITS staff and student technical assistants.

And as for what lies beyond the website revamp process, Steve is already at work creating new plans and a vision of the future for TBH. Stay tuned!

“Why There Isn’t an Anthropologist on the Enterprise” by Marybeth Tomka

Marybeth Tomka is the Head of Collections at TARL. This article is part of the June 2018 TARL newsletter. 


Such was the title of a brown bag lecture that S. Chad Oliver, professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, gave in the mid-1980s. This is the story of my connection to Dr. Oliver–Chad–that mirrors my lifelong relationship or infatuation with both science fiction and anthropology.

Dr. S. Chad Oliver, Professor of Anthropology and science fiction author.

Looking back, my interest in sci-fi probably came from two of my three brothers, who were science fiction fans–growing up, one’s older brothers were like gods. Maybe my attraction also came from the social interactions and missteps played out in science fiction, especially the sci-fi pieces that were popular when I was a kid. The science fiction of those days often involved nuclear war and invasion by aliens. I think most of this fiction was due to the fear of nuclear holocaust and the perception that scientists would lose of control of their inventions, which would be used for evil. This takes us back to the lecture by Chad. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, believed that humans would overcome their destructive phase and come out the other side as peace-loving and exploring peoples. Like Roddenberry, Chad viewed humans as possessing individual gifts that could be used for good, and this was reflected in his science fiction.

In the summer of 1978, I had finished my freshmen year at UT and was dating a man also fascinated with sci-fi. Knowing I was studying anthropology, he borrowed a book from one of his mentors, who of course was another sci-fi nerd. The book was about an anthropologist studying a small town in south Texas that held an entire population of aliens. I was excited because I had just taken my cultural anthropology intro class from the author, none other than Chad Oliver. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Chad had spent time at the World War II internment camp in south Texas with his medically-trained parents, an experience that influenced his writing of this book. I loved the book and continued to read Chad’s fiction as I progressed through my graduatestudies. One of my favorites was his fictional take on the story of the battle at Little Big Horn. The book, other than the fictional content, was almost verbatim his Plains Indians class lectures leading up to the Battle and Custer’s fall. The hours in the classroom with him that semester were so enjoyable, and when he would see me checking my mail in the grad lounge after class would ask how he did that day. My dear Dr. Oliver, you were always a riveting lecturer.

This spring, a colleague here at TARL who shares my passion for science fiction and I got onto the topic of Chad’s collected works. I began searching on Kindle for his work and was rewarded with a gold mine of reading pleasure. During my reading I came across a passage in the short story “Now to grieve a little” that made me exclaim out loud about Chad’s cleverness of weaving reality into fiction. Several pages later after the discovery of the mystery artifact central to the telling of the story and its background secrets, our lead character travels to Austin to visit the archaeologist at UT:

“He walked rapidly across the almost deserted campus of the University of Texas in Austin, feeling the hot sun beat down on his back and trying not to think, for a moment, about the tiny plastic disc that had so altered his life. He looked at the Main Building as he passed by, . . .He walked into Waggoner Hall, . . .walked into the Anthropology Museum. He passed through the empty museum, hardly glancing at the familiar exhibits. Campbell and Krieger were both working with Joe Cason down at Falcon, so the museum was even quieter than usual. “

Those reading this of a certain age and knowledge of Texas archaeology will immediately recognize the names of these people as those who left lasting effects on the practice of archaeology and the very collections that TARL holds.

The connection between this story of Chad Oliver, who always wanted to teach a class about anthropology in science fiction but never had the time, and TARL’s history is just another of the wonders of working here. But one final comment: Chad was wrong–there was an anthropologist on Star Trek’s Enterprise for one episode. I let him know after the lecture, and I like to think that he appreciated my candor as appreciated the unique personalities and talents of each of his students. My dear Dr. Oliver, you could reach out and grab your students with your lectures. After all these years, we miss you still.

Original artwork for Chad Oliver’s science-fiction novel “Fires of Forever.”

The Photographic Collections at TARL

TARL has thousands and thousands of photographic prints, slides and negatives in our collection, dating from the early 1920s through present day. Currently we receive digital photographs almost exclusively, but the collection includes a variety of older formats—even glass plate and silver nitrate negatives. The nitrate negatives in particular are a challenge to maintain, as they are somewhat volatile and must be stored in freezing temperatures. The photos are (mostly) project and site specific and in many cases are a glimpse of not only sites found during the early years of Texas Archeology, but also the archeological methods used through time and Texans’ life in general. The photographs taken during the WPA archeological projects, for example, show distinctive methods such as the stair-step type of excavations done at deeply buried sites and raised platforms for mapping and taking photos. These photographs also show the local people hired during the Depression to work on archeological sites, adding an element of human interest and historical documentation.

TARL’s photographic collection is available for students, professional and avocational researchers to use. Please let TARL staff know ahead of time so we can assist with identifying and retrieving the photographs you have requested. Professional archeologists doing contract projects are charged for using TARL’s records, photographs, and maps. Any photos to be used in a for-profit publication will also incur a fee. TARL does not charge for pro bono or student work.

Photo from TARL photographic archive: Site 41TV41 Step excavation—west wall (1938-1939).
Photo from TARL photographic archive: Site 41BW3 Datum station—taken from camera tower to the north (1938).
Photo from TARL photographic archive: Site 41BW3—Staff in front of office tent (1938).
Photo from TARL photographic archive: Site 41BW3, Men using wagon and team to haul excavated earth (1938).

Happy Retirement, Jean!

Dear Earthlings:

I have been studying your cultures and primitive technologies for several years. See my first report below.

Although I have made many friends during my time at TARL, I feel I have learned as much as I can about this planet by staying here. I will be checking on the activities at TARL as time goes by. A new watcher will be coming shortly. They may not identify themselves, except by their human designation. You are still expected to continue turning in site forms, sketch maps, and shapefiles, fill out worksheets when at TARL, and send in complete information for file searches.

I am heartened by the amount of archeological and historical work that is still taking place today. That is one of this planet’s saving graces. The verdict on Earth is still out. The rest of the universe is watching Earth—from a distance.

Jean Hughes

Jean’s First Report in the TARL Staff Directory:

Born on the planet Zxelon in a “galaxy far far away,” Jean Hughes braved being sanctioned by the Intergalactic Council by traveling to that eternally quarantined planet, Earth, to study the mysterious, wild, and sometimes violent species that refer to themselves as “humans.” Disguised as a mild mannered TexSite and Atlas Coordinator at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, she works with ArcGIS, does records searches, and when possible, paper conservation of TARL’s voluminous collections. In her spare time she studies earthlings through community service in East Austin and those wonderful mediums for collecting personal information: Nextdoor, Neighborhood Watch, and occasionally YouTube—where humans display the best of their intellectual and artistic talents.

Jean Hughes with husband Richard and TARL Registrar Rosario Casarez at the TARL Archeology Fair in 2016.

It is with both sadness and warm wishes that we are announcing the retirement of a long-time TARL staff member, TexSite and Atlas Coordinator Jean Hughes. Jean will be leaving TARL at the end of August 2018 after 26 years of service. Jean has been a fixture in the Texas archeological community since the 1970s, and worked under Dr. Jim Neely at WS Ranch for many years. Jean is well-known in the Texas Archeological Society and always volunteers with community and educational events.

In addition to her work at TARL, Jean is a dedicated member of her synagogue and choir and was also active with wildlife rescue for many years. She is also very active in her University Hills neighborhood, contributing many hours to the community garden and other efforts. We are sure her husband of 40 years, Richard, her adult children Kate and Burt, and the rest of the Zxelonians are looking forward to spending more time together as Jean retires. We will miss her and wish her all the best!

The A.E. Anderson Collection By Nadya Prociuk

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.

Figure 1. Vessels of Huastecan origin in the A.E. Anderson collection housed at TARL. These vessels were first identified by Gordon Eckholm as demonstrating a connection between the prehistoric inhabitants of the Rio Grande Delta and the Huastecan groups further south along the coast.

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.

Explore UT 2018

This past weekend, TARL staff and students got to join in one of our favorite events of the year: Explore UT! Each year, the University of Texas opens its campus to thousands of K-12 visitors to give them a look at college life. Each department and research unit is invited to participate by sharing activities that can help students learn about the many majors and career paths open to them as a future UT student.

We had an amazing turnout this year–thousands of students from across the state came out to visit the UT campus. With the help of several amazing student volunteers and friends, we shared a hands-on activity, flintknapping demonstration, and artifact show and tell with a huge number of kids, educators, and parents.

We want to say a huge thank you to our volunteers! This day would not have been possible without your help. Thank you for helping us share our love of archeology with the next generation of UT students!

TxDOT archeologist Chris Ringstaff demonstrates flintknapping (stone tool making) to a group of students.
TARL Intern Mallory shares info with visitors.
UT grad students brought manos and metates to demonstrate prehistoric food preparation techniques.
TARL Intern Ann Marie discusses artifacts with students and parents.

The Lighter Side of Dr. E. Mott Davis

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.

Dr. Dittert’s message to Dr. Davis:

And Dr. Davis’ reply:

More entirely serious messages from Mott can be found at the Nebraska University Library’s website.

TARL Visits Downtown Austin

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.

A huge number and variety of glass bottles were recovered from the Guytown excavations, including many beer and liquor bottles, patent medicine bottles, and perfume bottles.

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.

TARL students, staff, volunteers, and friends in front of the J.P. Schneider General Store building in downtown Austin.
One of the barrel-vaulted underground chambers built by the Schneider family sometime in the 1870s. The structure is in the style of “beer vaults” built by many German immigrants, but Schneider died before it was ever used for brewing beer. The structure was re-discovered by archeologists in the 1990s.

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.

Texas Archeology Month Fair 2017

Thank you to everyone who came out to this year’s Texas Archeology Month Fair this past weekend!

What an event it was– 68 volunteers representing at least 18 local agencies and groups led activities for more than 400 visitors! The beautiful weather made it a perfect day to get outside and learn about archeology from the experts.

We are so grateful to all our volunteers, to the donors who helped make this event possible, and to our community for being so supportive of this kind of outreach! Thank you to all who shared your expertise and your love of archeology to help inspire the next generation of archeologists.

Here are some of our favorite photos from this year’s Fair. See y’all next year!