Explore UT 2015

by Rosario Casarez


TARL is gearing up for Explore UT on March 7th.  Explore UT is touted as “The Biggest Open House in Texas”.  It’s a campus-wide event with hundreds of activities for visitors to enjoy.  TARL is participating in the festivities after a few years’ hiatus, but we are back in full force with lots to do for young and old.  And we will be joining forces with a group of dedicated UT anthropology graduate students who have carried the archeology torch for the past couple of Explore UT’s.

Kids (and staff) enjoying rock art painting during previous Explore UT event.
Kids (and staff) enjoying rock art painting during previous Explore UT event.


Rosario expertly demonstrating the technique for making cordage during Explore UT to a group of children...who were carefully gauging younger siblings and asking astute questions about tensile properties.

Rosario expertly demonstrating the technique for making cordage during Explore UT to a group of children…who were carefully gauging younger siblings and asking astute questions about tensile properties.


Students learning the fine art of rock painting.  We will provide your children paint and the tools to apply it; what happens  during the car ride home with the wet paint we are not accountable for.  You have been warned.  ;)
Students learning the fine art of rock painting. We will provide your children paint and the tools to apply it; what happens during the car ride home with the wet paint we are not accountable for. You have been warned. 😉
This is Susan "Too Cool for School" Dial manning her Texas Beyond History table.  Explore UT, 2007.
This is Susan “Too Cool for School” Dial manning her Texas Beyond History table. Explore UT, 2007.


Here’s a sampling of what we’ll have to offer: pottery mending, corn-husk doll making, rock-art painting (on cardstock), Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphic writing and an artifact “ooh and ahh” table.  We will also have several grinding stations set up with manos and metates, so you can try your hand at corn grinding. And there will be a skeleton show-and-tell table.  (The skeleton will be a replica; unfortunately, no mummies will be participating.)

Besides these outdoor activities, there will be two indoor lectures presented by TARL staff:

– Susan Dial, our Texas Beyond History editor, will talk about what ancient Texans ate in “Texas Beyond History:  Detectives Into the Past”.

– Jonathan Jarvis, TARL’s associate director, will present “The Role of Maps in Archeology: Past, Present and Future.”

So come out and pay us a visit; we’ll be on the east side of the main UT campus in the Liberal Arts Building Courtyard.  The talks will be held in the Liberal Arts Building, room 1.104.  Here’s more information about this event – https://exploreut.utexas.edu/.



Update to Training Workshop Announcement

by Marybeth Tomka

On January 1, 2015, TARL changed its collection policies, including separation of collections and required forms.  These changes to the policy and associated forms are now posted on our new website.  The old url should redirect you, if not, this is the address: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/tarl/.

On Tuesday, March 24 at 1 PM, I will be holding a short overview of the new requirements, as well as explaining the reasons for the changes, and providing some limited training in how to prepare a collection.  We will also have a short segment on records if anyone would like a review of those stipulations.  I ask that you all download the policies and review them before the meeting.  We will meet in the conference room upstairs in the main TARL building unless we get inundated in which case we will move to the “A” portable.

I’d appreciate a heads up on who is likely to attend.  Please email me with a confirmation of attendance for the workshop if you plan to attend.  Don’t hesitate to contact me if you should have any questions about the amended collections policies, the workshop or getting to TARL.

I look forward to speaking with you all at the workshop!

The Akokisa and the Atakapans

by Kerri Wilhelm

I’ve been working with one of our visiting researchers in the Human Osteology collection to provide information that may assist them in determining potential descendant populations of the Akikosa and Atakapa.  Making use of resources such as Texas Beyond History, our indispensable site files and archeological reports, as well as publicly available resources drawn from the UT libraries, the THC’s documentation on tribal claims and contacts (http://www.thc.state.tx.us/project-review/tribal-consultation-guidelines/tribal-contacts) and the online NAGPRA Native American Consultation Database, I can help researchers make connections between archeologically represented indigenous people and potentially descendant modern Native American groups.  Being able to make those connections allows researchers to investigate topics like cultural evolution, affiliation and identity, gene flow and admixture, and provides a larger context for their specific research goals.  It’s really exciting when the collections at TARL support what the documentation is telling us and a clearer image of the past begins to take shape.

Coastal prairie and marshland locations identified through archeological work to have been inhabited by prehistoric and historic populations of indigenous people.  Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.
Coastal prairie and marshland locations identified through archeological work to have been inhabited by prehistoric and historic populations of indigenous people. Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.


Detail from 1776 map by British cartographer and publisher Thomas Jefferys. Most of what the British knew about New Spain came from maps, charts, and sketches captured from Spanish warships by the British Armada. Although the geography is distorted and the map was already outdated in many regards when it was printed, it does name the Atacapa as “Wandering Indians” in southeast Texas. Source: David Rumsey Map Collection. Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.







Approximate territories of native groups of the upper Texas coast in the early 18th century as reconstructed by Lawrence Aten in his 1983 book, Indians of the Upper Texas Coast (Academic Press). Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History. http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/mitchell/ethnohistory.html



Territory of the Atakapa-speaking groups in the 18th century as reconstructed by W.W. Newcomb (2004, Fig 1). Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History. http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/mitchell/images/Newcomb-2004-Atakapan.html


There is a group of people who self-identify as being descendants of the Atakapa who are currently in the process of applying for federal recognition as a Native American tribe (“Atakapa-Ishak Nation”).

“We were called Atakapa by the Choctaw.  The name was used by the Spaniards and French colonizers in Louisiana, as a slur word to refer to the Ishak people.  This gave us a reputation and rumor of being “man eaters”, which continues through today.  We, the descendants of the Atakapa-Ishak Indians exist unrecognized and misnamed under various names of choice like Creoles, Creole Indians, and Creoles of Color.  The term “colored” has clouded our racial identity.  Atakapa-Ishak descendants show a wide range of complexions which is attributed to the genes for light or brown complexions.  Many Atakapa-Ishak no longer know their correct racial identity.”

For more information on this tribe, their journey toward federal recognition and their ties to southeastern Texas, please visit their website at:  http://www.atakapa-ishak.org/history/



Wanted: Volunteers!

by Kerri Wilhelm

TARL has long served as ‘the facility’ within the state of Texas where archeological collections of every size, in every state of preservation imaginable, and with any number of associated files (or the loudly-cursed lack thereof) have come to curated down through the decades as Texas archeology has evolved in theory and methodology from the large-scale excavations of the WPA era to satellite imagery and LIDAR of remote piloted drones conducting survey.  As modern methodology in the field of archeology takes us further and further away from the days of ‘collect everything as you go’ toward an uncertain future where acrheological data and interpretive value are measured in terabytes, server space and 3D printing potential, we here at TARL carefully consider the research value and volume of the collections resting on the shelves.  Unlike the tiny digital footprint resulting from the virtual reconstruction of an excavation, the collections here range in footprint from the Herrera Gates to a 15′ long dugout canoe, to 40lb. metates and countless projectile points.  It can take your breath away if you stop to consider what lies inside the drawers here…4,000 years of human occupation caught in a snapshot, framed with carefully spun cordage, meticulously worked (and reworked) projectile points, and rabbit sticks worn smooth by countless calloused hands.  To the archeologically-uninitiated the drawers hold curiosities made of stone, wood and bone.  To those of us who have the privilege of calling TARL our “place of employment” these curiosities are the remnants of a distant past that was recorded in rock art and pictographs as opposed to cellulose and pixels.  But it takes time and resources to curate these irreplaceable artifacts of human history from our great state.  We are a small staff dedicated to the care of millions of artifacts and miles of site reports and archeological records.  As we have done so many times before, we are looking for volunteers.


Marybeth Tomka, the Head of Collections at TARL, is interested in accepting volunteers to help her carry out the ongoing collections management tasks that allow these artifacts to retain their significance in history and prehistory.  Collections, and artifacts at the individual level, are only of research value if they are properly recorded in documentation and entered carefully into a relational database that retains this critical information and makes it work for the researchers.  Marybeth is responsible for seeing that all of the archeological collections which have been collected over many decades continue to be well-cared for and continue to be accessible to visiting researchers and archeologists.  Students who volunteer at TARL are provided hands-on training in archeological collections processing, artifact identification and some laboratory methodologies (when she has the time).  If you are a student interested in archeology, anthropology and/or museum collections management, the skills she can teach you through her volunteer program will assist you in your future professional endeavors.  Don’t let the off-campus location deter you.  The experience will prove well worth it and you’ll have the chance to work various prehistoric and historic collections and learn valuable skills from a trained professional archeologist.  If you get your geek on the same way we do, if you want to have the chance to see the drawers that hold the history and contribute to our ongoing projects, contact Marybeth Tomka, Head of Collections at marybeth.tomka@austin.utexas.edu.




Teaching at TARL

by Kerri Wilhelm

This semester our Associate Director, Jonathan Jarvis, is instructing a course here at TARL entitled “Digital Data Systems in Archeology (ANT 324L).”  It is a hands-on course introducing students to the digital equipment and basic geospatial software used in the field to collect archeological location data.  Jonathan provides students an introduction to GIS and an over view of near-surface sensing techniques, technical skills that archeologists should be able to successfully apply while conducting field work.  Jonathan’s focus is providing these UT students the fundamentals of instrument operation and data capture in simulated archeological field conditions.  CRM firms seek to hire the most qualified recent graduates and Jonathan’s course gives students their first real introduction to what will be expected of them when considering a career in archeology: a firm foundation in location mapping and working with geospatial data.



Jonathan was kind enough to invite me to speak to his students to recruit student bloggers.  These students are being introduced to the technology and software programs that continue to evolve in scope and application even as they progress through the semester.  I wanted to take an opportunity to get some feedback from the students about their perspectives on the increasing role, and perhaps, increasing dependence, on technology to carry out field data collection and synthesis.  I offered the following topics to them as potential blog post material as they work their way through the course:

“Posts can range in topics from the macro (how trends in technology are being represented in the field of archeology) to the micro (what are the advantages and disadvantages of using ‘satellite archeology’ to define archeological sites and what are the limitations).  Other topics to be considered can include:

  • how are recent technologies changing the roles archeologists play in defining history?
  • are software applications, like GIS, more reliable for publishing data in archeology or less reliable because it assumes a level of computer proficiency that the field of archeology may still be trying to catch up with?
  • how has technology changed the role of the archeologist in the field over the last 100 years?
  • does social networking have the potential to increase the relevance and value of archeological data and interpretation? How?
  • what are some good examples of technology providing archeologists with tools and data that they would not have otherwise obtained?
  • how can technology be applied to existing archeological collections to obtain more or better data, re-interpret findings or provide more access to researchers who cannot afford to physically visit the collections?”

As we continue to invite more and more students to join us out here at TARL, we not only want for them to learn the ins-and-outs of processing archeological collections or the necessity for strict policy to guide the management of collections of artifacts that number in the tens and hundreds of thousands, we also want them to use the skills they are acquiring out here to apply in their critical thinking as they approach the various sub-disciplines within archeology that will govern their professional paths.  TARL is a resource at many levels, and not just for the massive volume of collections or the depth of time they represent.  TARL is also a resource based on the knowledge that staff bring to bear in helping to teach the next generation of archeologists.  The students in Jonathan’s archeology class represent the most digitally-based generation of future archeological researchers yet.  It will be interesting to read their posts and to hear their thoughts about the role that they foresee technology playing in their future professional careers.





Ancient Rock Art: TARL’s Trove of Historic Paintings and the Online Tools for Viewing Them

by Susan Dial

Above image: Forrest Kirkland’s watercolor depiction of the art at Rattlesnake Canyon in the Lower Pecos is one of the dozens  in TARL’s collections that have been scanned for viewing online on Texas Beyond History.

In 1933, artists Forrest and Lula Kirkland began a study of the extraordinary rock art of Texas. Working chiefly on weekend camping trips, the couple’s interest developed into a mission that was to span 10 years. Their epic journeys took them across much of the state, from the mountains of the Trans Pecos, to rocky bluffs along the clear streams of the Edwards Plateau, to the rugged canyonlands of the Lower Pecos.  Wherever prehistoric peoples had found a stone canvas for their expression, the Kirklands traveled to examine and document the artwork.  Early on, the two perfected the recording techniques that allowed them to capture the ancient pictographs and petroglyphs on canvas: Forrest carefully measured and sketched the art to scale in pencil, then adding water color to match the paintings on rock.  Lula, meanwhile, drove, scouted for sites, photographed the art, and performed many camp chores.

The dozens of watercolor paintings that emerged from this near-Herculean effort are preserved at TARL for researchers to examine and compare to the ancient art today. Because of the careful documentation techniques the Kirklands employed, these paintings—now over 80 years old—constitute a critical record of the ancient art and are treasures in themselves.  Much of the rock art observed and painted by Forrest Kirkland has since been damaged if not destroyed by natural forces and human vandals. Small details and even whole sections of paintings copied in the Kirkland watercolors no longer exist today.

The great majority of the Kirkland watercolor collection have been digitally scanned and is available for viewing on TARL’s website, Texas Beyond History, along with substantive discussion about the prehistoric and historic period painters and their cultures. Galleries of Kirkland’s renderings of the monumentally scaled Lower Pecos rock art can be viewed in detail at  http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/artistic/trail.html;  that of the surprisingly diminutive works at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos can be seen at http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/hueco/gallery.html.  Further discussion is provided in a section on artistic expression of the Trans Pecos: http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/trans-p/artistic/index.html and Lower Pecos http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/artistic/index.html. Spanning at least 4,500 years, Texas’ ancient rock art paintings are a window into the spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions of the past.  At the other end of the spectrum, we can view through native artist’s  eyes the  coming of early Spanish explorers and priest and mull the cultural upheaval that lay in store at that long ago time.

Online galleries on Texas Beyond History enable viewers to view small details of Kirkland’s watercolor paintings, such as the tiny mask paintings at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos region.


Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell  County  includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.
Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell County includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.


Did You Know?

The first paintings done by Forrest Kirkland were of Paint Rock in central Texas.  Not knowing who to consult about them, the artist sent J. E. Pearce, then chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, black and white photographs of the paintings. Pearce was enthusiastic about Kirkland’s work and invited the Kirklands to visit him in Austin before archeologist A. T. Jackson left for a summer in the field. Jackson was then collecting data for his work on The Picture-Writing of Texas Indians and Pearce thought a meeting of the two men should be profitable for both.   Lula Kirkland wrote:

“We went down and showed him the original paintings and enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them. Mr. Jackson considered getting Forrest to go with him on field trips as an artist, to paint the pictographs. But we preferred to go out on our own during our vacations.”

From The Rock Art of Texas Indians by Forrest Kirkland and W. W. Newcomb, Jr. (University of Texas Press, reprinted edition 1999).




Ongoing Research in the Human Osteology Collections

by Kerri Wilhelm

Dr. Deborah Bolnick, genetic anthropologist and associate professor in UT’s Anthropology Department, visited the TARL Human Osteology collection with one of her doctoral students, Austin Reynolds, recently as they begin their identification of osteological elements for aDNA.  Most interested in intact adult molar-dentition, which may provide the valuable genetic material for their testing, they made their way carefully through the collections and handled each element with great respect.  The research that Dr. Bolnick and her student are working on (and more specifically, will publish on) will provide much needed insight into the genetic impact of the earliest Spanish colonial contact with Native Americans in Texas.

TARL has been very willing to work with Dr. Bolnick and her students for a number of reasons, not the least of which is her preference to attempt to obtain the necessary genetic material through a non-destructive technique involving a ‘bath’ for the element selected for aDNA sampling.  Lead author on an article in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology published in 2012, the collaborative journal article describes this non-destructive process.  You can find the article abstract at:


Nondestructive sampling of human skeletal remains yields ancient nuclear and mitochondrial DNA

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2012 Feb;147(2):293-300. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21647. Epub 2011 Dec 20.

Dr. Bolnick is very aware of the sensitive nature of the collections she is accessing and utilizing in her research.  She works with us to ensure that TARL as a UT research entity, and the collections she is working with specifically, are all compliant under NAGPRA laws and regulations.  She has also made clear her willingness to discuss the nature and significance of her research with those Native American communities that have expressed interested in gaining this scientific perspective.  Please follow the status of her projects and publications on our blog as she continues to work with TARL staff and collections, expanding our understanding of the prehistory of Texas and its early inhabitants.  We look forward to her continuing research!




by Stacy Drake

I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. My focus of study is in archaeology, with a particular emphasis on human osteology and the ancient Maya. My dissertation research is a bioarchaeological assessment of human burial traditions and life experiences of the ancient Maya throughout time periods and different sites in Northwestern Belize. Outside of my dissertation work, I am also very interested in and passionate about public outreach and education in archaeology. I greatly enjoy working with local and descendant communities and providing educational opportunities in archaeology with students of all ages.

I received Bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and German from the University of Iowa, and received my Master’s at UT Austin in 2011. I hope to defend my dissertation in 2015. I have 10 years of experience conducting archaeological field work, analysis, and research, and have worked with various Cultural Resource Management firms in Iowa and Texas. My first archaeological field school experience was at a historic homestead in Iowa, and I have since participated in field schools in Texas and Belize. I currently serve as Project Bioarchaeologist for the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project in Belize, and enjoy the joint opportunities to work with human remains from various ancient Maya sites and to also work alongside and instruct field school students in proper burial excavation and analysis techniques.

For the past few months I have enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer in the Human Osteology lab at TARL. For this project I am working with human remains to complete inventories and profiles of the individuals housed at TARL. I utilize basic osteological analysis techniques to identify the bones present within each collection and create assessments of sex, age at death, and any other special characteristics each individual skeleton exhibits (such as diseases and traumas experienced during the life or at the time of death of the individual). This analysis will aid in the creation of a database which will allow researchers to access and contribute to useful information regarding ancient populations in Texas.

The ability to work so closely with well preserved and curated remains has been profoundly valuable for my studies, my research, and my educational and personal pursuits. Since working with these remains, I have improved upon and learned new techniques for osteological analysis. I have developed a better understanding of efficient documentation processes and intend to implement similar methods in my own dissertation work. I have also been exposed to special technologies to which I have not previously had access. In particular, Kerri Wilhelm has been extremely supportive in demonstrating the use of some of these technologies and helping to guide me through particularly difficult specimens. I am grateful to her and Marybeth Tomka for this opportunity and experience.

My experience volunteering in the Human Osteology laboratory at TARL has greatly benefited my current research. Preservation conditions in Belize are not kind to bone, so the ability to study the relatively well-preserved collections at TARL has been extremely beneficial. While bones in Belize are often fragmentary and severely damaged by the natural environment, I have been able to further familiarize myself with characteristics of human bone that are not as observable in poorer preservation conditions. While conducting inventory and analysis on the TARL collections, I have not only improved my familiarity with skeletal analysis, but also with methods and techniques that I intend to implement in my own dissertation research and in the field school’s analysis process in Belize. Finally, my growing ability to identify more uncommon characteristics present in some of the skeletal collections (such as various trauma or pathological conditions or taphonomic processes) is primarily due to the patience and guidance of Kerri Wilhelm, who greets every question I bring to her (and there are many!) with a smile and helpful answer. I look forward to seeing what information will be gleaned from future research on the TARL collections and have personally benefited greatly from my own experiences therewith.





Training Announcement!

by Marybeth Tomka

Training Announcement: Coming this March!

How to Curate a Collection at TARL


Why TARL Staff are so Picky

With every new administration, comes some change.  Well, I’m no different.  Since getting (back) to TARL in July, I have considered and made some alterations to the way a collection is to be submitted.  It’s not because I am compulsive, okay, not all due to that, but these changes reflect a way to increase the effectiveness of TARL’s database system to make doing research easier for you, the user!

I am currently collecting names and contact information from people interested in participating in the training seminar and will be announcing a date in March soon.  Meanwhile, check out the new TARL web site (http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/tarl/) that has updated stipulations for both records and collections as well as new forms.  Here’s a breakdown of the significant changes to the collections policy:

  1. All organics to be stored in General Collections – cost will reflect new storage area.
  2. All materials to be kept in analytical categories regardless of storage space. Bags of separated categories to contain tag no smaller than 6 x 8 in size with same information as the current box tag.  Leave room for TARL accession number.
  3. No bulk bone, shell or metal to be labeled.
  4. Discontinue use of tag sleeves – replace with double bagging.
  5. Fifty percent of debitage and ceramics larger than a US quarter only to be labeled.
  6. All metal to be separated by object type – miscellaneous metal bags will not be accepted.
  7. All unique items to be bagged separately: e.g., do not bag all bifaces together.
  8. Artifact tags must have analytical grouping clearly written on tags and room left for the addition of the TARL accession number.
  9. Samples that have be reduced for analysis must have original weight, sample weight, and remaining weight clearly identified in the accompanying records and the appropriate value listed on the tag.
  10. Discontinue labelling the boxes, but place label inside box – cardboard boxes will be discontinued.
  11. Collections Inventory worksheets will be required for isolated finds/general project materials.
  12. An excel file will be submitted with the records that mirrors the Collection Inventory Worksheet. Template will be produced and distributed in early 2015.

These updated curation guidelines can be found on the TARL website here:  http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/tarl/_files/pdf/Curation_Procedures_Collections_2015.pdf

So, see you at the seminar and I will explain the craziness of a curator.

Editor’s Note:  The NAGPRA Specialist will be attending the proposed training as well.  She will be seated at the very back selling small effigies of the Head of Collections, and large needles, for those of you inclined to express your dissatisfaction with having to learn new standards.  <j/k MB!….I will only sell the little needles!>   😉

About this post’s featured image, provided courtesy of Texas Beyond History:  Probably associated with the small amount of Late Prehistoric material from 41VT1, this small collection of prehistoric ceramic sherds is illustrated to show the general variability and represents the entire prehistoric ceramic collection from the site. These materials await further analysis and description. 




Visit Us….Again!

by Kerri Wilhelm

The redesigned official TARL website is now up and available for traffic.  Presently, the bulk of the information is the same.  Our hope is that users will find the new format cleaner and the functionality streamlined.  We will be adding new content to the website as staff time and resources permit (remember, there are only a few of us!).  The new website also reflects the staff changes that have occurred over the last year.  We have been working with the university’s IT offices in the College of Liberal Arts (LAITS) to provide more direct access to TARL’s online resources and information on our services in a  virtual theme that is reflective of our status as a research arm of the University of Texas at Austin.  We hope the new website continues to provide you and the rest of the archeological community with the information you need.


Thank you!


The Texas Archeological Research Laboratory