NAGPRA, the law that protects human remains and associated artifacts, applies to human burials or remains that can be confidently affiliated with a modern, federally-recognized Native American group. What do archeologists do, though, when remains are found to date back many thousands of years in the past?
TARL Head of Collections Marybeth Tomka was featured in this article In the Summer 2017 issue of American Archaeology. Read the full PDF:
Every school year, TARL is fortunate to have the help of many undergraduate and graduate students from UT and other colleges. TARL’s internship, work-study, and volunteer programs help students get hands-on experience in a laboratory setting as they explore their interests in archeology, bioarcheology, forensics, museum studies, and information science. This spring, we had quite a few of our great students graduate. We will miss having them around, but we are excited to see what they do next!
TARL Human Osteology Laboratory intern Elizabeth Coggeshall graduated from UT this spring with an honors degree in Anthropology. Elizabeth completed numerous skeletal inventories and analyses as an intern and volunteer at TARL while completing her degree. Her immediate plans include going to South Africa to do fieldwork on forest baboons for the Goudeveld Baboon Project hosted by Duke University. Afterward, she plans to complete a research project with Dr. Rebecca Lewis of UT, apply for graduate school for fall 2018, and spend lots of time with her tripod kitty, Hammy.
TARL Human Osteology Laboratory intern and volunteer Jessie LeViseur graduated from Texas State with a B.S. in Anthropology, focusing on forensics. She started volunteering at TARL in May 2015. She has had the task of checking the integrity of preservation of human remains in the TARL HO lab, as well as representing TARL at the 2015 TAS meeting, where she discussed her work on the WPA-era Harrell site rehab project. She has also completed a TARL internship, and now works part-time in our HO lab. Her goal is to work in a hospital or police lab doing forensic work full time.
TARL Collections & Osteology intern Kimberly Noone graduated from UT with a degree in Anthropology. As an anthropology student she focused on biological anthropology and archaeology. During her time in the TARL Osteology Lab she worked to catalog and re-analyze the collection of human remains, and in our Collections department she completed an updated inventory of the faunal remains collection from the Bonfire Shelter site in southwestern Texas.
Kim initially had a hard time choosing a major at UT, not declaring until the beginning of her junior year, but she discovered an interest in archaeology after taking the human osteology course offered by Dr. John Kappelman. She found the study of burial practices and human remains intriguing and that helped her plan for her future. Kim plans on returning to school to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in Archaeology. Her experiences working at TARL have solidified her interest in lab work and working with remains. She hopes to be able to study human burial practices, using her knowledge of osteology to further research paleopathologies.
TARL work-study student Christina Uribe just graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology. She is also double majoring in Chemistry at in the College of Natural Sciences. Tina originally came to UT as a natural sciences major, but during her first year she took the anthropology introduction course and has been hooked ever since. After that, Tina continued taking various anthropology courses that included topics such as primate anatomy, Maya civilization, and digital data systems in archaeology. She eventually added anthropology as a second major and studied abroad last summer at the field school in Belize as part of the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project. This past year, Tina was a work-study intern at TARL. She primarily handled data entry, transferring site records and their respective inventory to an online database. Through this work she was able to gain a greater understanding of Texas archaeology. In the future Tina would like to study biological anthropology further and find a way to combine her studies in chemistry and anthropology, possibly in forensics. After finishing up her Chemistry degree at UT this year, Tina plans to get some additional experience to help her narrow down her career options. Once she has a clear idea of what she’d like to focus on, she will attend graduate school to further her education.
TARL volunteer Morgan Lubenow recently graduated from UT with a B.A. in Anthropology. Morgan’s last year was a whirlwind, as she completed a study abroad course at the Turkana Basin Institute (Turkana, Kenya, Africa) in the fall semester and a full work and internship schedule in the Spring Semester. Currently Morgan is working for the Girl Scouts of Central Texas as a Program Manager for an overnight camp called Camp Kachina. This position is a longtime goal for Morgan, so she is very excited. After her summer camp position ends she’ll be starting up a road trip to see as many of the US’s National Parks and Historic sites as possible. She’ll be traveling August through May with a few stops home. After her epic road trip, Morgan hopes to attend graduate school beginning in the fall of 2018. She is currently looking at Duke as well as Stony Brook University.
Not all of TARL’s students have graduated and left us! Former intern Sheldon Smith and volunteer Meaghan O’Brien are currently building up their field experience and archeological skills at the UT Programme for Belize Archeological Project. TARL volunteer and part-time collections staff Katie Kitch is volunteering with the Texas Historical Commission. And, several of our wonderful volunteers are still coming out to TARL regularly to help us out with important lab work and collections tasks. Thanks to all our volunteers!
The past two weeks involved hands on work that I was able to do on the rehousing project of our naturally preserved mummy. Working with cardboard boxes, duct tape, and other tools, I was able to come up with my first rough idea for both the outer box and inner sled. Upon further work, both Kerri and I decided that an additional inner sled would be needed. Hope to keep you all updated as we make more progress!
Check back later in the week as Truc continues to design and engineer protective long-term housing for this delicate set of remains as she continues her research into best practice for creating stable, preservation micro-environments for organic objects.
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:
All organics to be stored in General Collections – cost will reflect new storage area.
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.
No bulk bone, shell or metal to be labeled.
Discontinue use of tag sleeves – replace with double bagging.
Fifty percent of debitage and ceramics larger than a US quarter only to be labeled.
All metal to be separated by object type – miscellaneous metal bags will not be accepted.
All unique items to be bagged separately: e.g., do not bag all bifaces together.
Artifact tags must have analytical grouping clearly written on tags and room left for the addition of the TARL accession number.
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.
Discontinue labelling the boxes, but place label inside box – cardboard boxes will be discontinued.
Collections Inventory worksheets will be required for isolated finds/general project materials.
An excel file will be submitted with the records that mirrors the Collection Inventory Worksheet. Template will be produced and distributed in early 2015.
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.
In cooperation with Becky Shelton at the State Archeologist’s office at the Texas Historical Commission, I am working to develop a historic ceramics workshop. We are planning to have a seminar this spring, date to be announced, and depending on its appeal, we will continue having them yearly. There will be limited space, about 20 people with preference given to stewards.
If you want to know more about historic ceramics, their varieties and nuances, consider this workshop as a fun and cooperative learning experience.
Stay tuned to the blog as we move forward with planning the details of this wonderful, hands-on learning opportunity that will be presented here at TARL on UT’s Pickle Research Campus. We will provide workshop details as they evolve.
Oh, the featured image above is of the texts that we will be using for training during the workshop. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you at the workshop, and at those we hope to offer in the future.
The remains of the individual discovered in Williamson County near Leander, TX are in the process of being assessed and re-examined by two University of Texas researchers who are also on faculty in the Anthropology department. TARL has loaned the cranium to Dr. John Kappelman for research into whether new CT imaging technology and techniques can reveal more of the original anatomical orientation of the vault fragments which were brushed with an adhesive in situ to prevent any loss during recovery in the field. The partially jacketed cranium, including the vault fragments, could potentially all be scanned using computerized tomography (CT) equipment and then reconstructed in software back into the orientation they would have occupied during the life of this archeologically significant individual. Dr. Kappelman also came by TARL in the fall, with some of his undergraduate students in tow, to assess the state of preservation of the post-cranial material for CT scanning. It is our hope that digitizing this material will provide new data sets and anatomical information that can be utilized to increase our understanding of the physiology, physical and environmental stressors and any indicators of trauma and pathology endured by this Paleoindian young woman. Further study will allow anthropologists like Dr. Kappelman to fit the Wilson-Leonard woman into the larger spectrum of the prehistoric-modern evolutionary timeline that will shed light on the origins of the first people in North America.
Dovetailing with the loan of this important TARL collection is the potential for genetic analyses to be performed, should the state and manner of preservation support the requirements of this type of study. Dr. Deborah Bolnick, genetic anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UT, will be meeting with me very soon to discuss the possibility and application of genetic testing of the Wilson-Leonard woman’s post cranial material. Currently engaged in two other genetic investigations involving TARL collection materials, if testing is feasible, any resulting data could be used to contribute valuable information for research into the genetic origins of Paleo-Indians and the first inhabitants of Texas in particular.
These are just two of the research projects currently in discussion here at TARL. Our collections, the breadth of cultural diversity and archeological depth of time represented in them, makes them a good choice for researchers interested in investigating the numerous aspects of Texas archeology and history. Please visit the Texas Beyond History virtual exhibits focusing on the Wilson-Leonard site and associated burial for more information about the significance of this site in Texas’ archeological record.
Check back with us regularly as we continue to post about the TARL collections being used in research, new and ongoing research projects and investigations, and highlights in the collections as we use artifacts to keep moving Texas history forward.
Dr. Timothy Perttula, owner and cultural resources director of Archeological & Environmental Consultants and author of both The Caddo Nation (1992) and Archaeology of the Caddo (2012), is accessing TARL’s vessel collection. Citing it as one of the largest collections of intact prehistoric Caddo ceramic vessels, Dr. Perttula is documenting the vessels and their various stylistic and compositional design elements. Aside from his visits to the TARL collections over the years, Dr. Perttula has also contributed to TARL’s virtual museum, Texas Beyond History, which presents the artifacts in their proper historical and archeological context. Dr. Perttula wrote the Lake Naconiche Prehistory exhibit (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/naconiche/index.html) with contributions from Bob Wishoff. He serves on the Smithsonian Institution’s Native American Repatriation Review Committee in addition to being an Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Anthropology Department at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. Specializing in Caddo ceramics and East Texas archeology, Dr. Perttula is also the tribal archeological consultant to the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma. He has produced dozens of reports and publications and with TARL’s Head of Collections is engaged in coordinating the release of these valuable texts about the archeology of East Texas and Caddo archeology.
Efficiently documenting both the intact ceramic Caddo vessels, as well as the decorated sherds, Dr. Perttula is providing valuable new inventories of the materials excavated during the WPA era. The documentation that he provides, in addition to his knowledgeable insights about the people who created these artifacts, will enrich our understanding of the Caddo, their history as a people and their continuing importance in the modern Texas cultural landscape.
One of my duties here at TARL involves assisting with any of the numerous collections-based projects that may be going on at any given time. Given the tiny size of our staff, we all wear many hats and have to pitch-in whenever and wherever as needed to ensure that proper care of the collections is being achieved. Over the course of this past summer Diane Ruetz and I were faced with ensuring the care of TARL’s very large collection of Navajo sand paintings. Recognizing that this is a significant collection of ethnographic art, a type of non-archeological collection we don’t specialize in here at TARL, Diane and I set about performing the documentation necessary to build what will become the permanent files for this collection. It was during documentation that we recognized the fragile nature inherent to this particular art medium: some of the sands had experienced color fade and the adhesives used in the construction of the plywood and particle board backers were leeching aldehydes through the front canvases and discoloring the paintings in places. Also, at least one of the sand paintings was showing signs of the sand exfoliating away from the canvas, a process we were keen to prevent. Informal condition assessments revealed that these pieces of two-dimensional art were in need of several things: 1. more protection from ambient UV and 2. an archival storage solution that would help mitigate acid migration in the backer materials and prevent any further damage associated with chemical and mechanical changes wrought by damaging particulates, pollutants and fluctuations in relative humidity. Diane set about gathering the dimensions for the paintings with the intent of researching the costs of purchasing ‘blue board’ curation boxes and I photo-documented the paintings. We began to plan our ‘boxing’ of the sand paintings.
While we awaited the arrival of the archival boxes from Gaylord and continued with the photo-documentation, I got in touch with a group of people who I knew would have dealt with this specific type of ethnographic art before: the collections staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. I was put in touch with Victoria Cranner who was then the Acting Collections Manager at the NMAI at the Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, MD. Victoria had some really helpful advice about they store their Navajo sand paintings and why. She was kind enough to include photographs of the storage techniques used by the NMAI which I have included below. Victoria’s (paraphrased) advice:
1. best to lay them flat, if you happen to be blessed with the space to do so
2. make boxes for them out of archival blue board, lined with volara or ethafoam and make little bumpers out of foam backer rod
if dust is a concern, make sure the box for the painting has a lid
4. high temperatures could potentially loosen the fixatives originally used to adhere the sand, so store the sand paintings in an environmentally stable location (about 70®F and 48%RH)
5. off-gassing (of the aldehydes in the particle board) is possible, but since these (sand paintings) were made in the 1970’s most of the gasses have probably dissipated
Below are images provided by Victoria Cranner of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian illustrating the storage of Navajo sand paintings at the Cultural Resource Center.
Victoria was a huge help in helping staff here at TARL identify the best means and manner in which to store our large collection of Navajo sand paintings. Of course, placing the paintings into the boxes means that no one can see the beautiful artistry or enjoy the traditional Navajo chantway stories that are being told with the paintings. It is the hope of staff here at TARL that we can locate a suitable institution interested in housing, and hopefully displaying, these beautiful works of art. Below are images of our ongoing efforts to bring this collection up to current best standards in object curation.
Dr. Deborah Bolnick, a molecular anthropologist and associate professor in UT’s Anthropology Department, has been accessing TARL’s Human Osteology collection at various points over the course of the last few years. In October 2014 she made two visits to the HO collections with Research Fellow Jennifer Raff, also of the Anthropology Department at UT, following allocation of project funding and support provided by the Rock Art Foundation. During these visits, they selected skeletal elements that appeared to best meet the criteria for a specific type of DNA sampling: aDNA. This kind of DNA, “ancient DNA” or aDNA, is characterized as DNA that can be isolated from prehistoric specimens such as mummified soft tissues, skeletal remains and intact teeth. Dr. Bolnick is investigating the biological ancestry of the prehistoric inhabitants of the Lower Pecos region of Texas. Her research will create a genomic map of these populations and identify genetic diversity of these groups, ostensibly allowing scientists to determine genetic associations, as well as rates and direction of gene flow into and out of this culturally rich region spanning the landscape between Texas and Mexico. Recently she was a part of a well-publicized genetic study of a prehistoric adolescent, whose remains were recovered from an underwater cave in Mexico and relative dated to the late Pleistocene (12,000-13,000 years ago). Called “Naia,” and also known as the “Hoyo Negro Girl,” the remains of this female teenager included a tooth which was analyzed by researchers, including UT’s own Dr. Bolnick, for DNA. For the interesting story of Naia and what her prehistoric DNA is revealing about the origins of paleoindians and Native Americans for science, please visit: http://www.futurity.org/native-americans-cave-teen-ancestry/.
Dr. Bolnick’s next round of research will involve sampling of other prehistoric sites represented here at TARL in the HO collections. Along with one of her PhD. students, Austin Reynolds, Dr. Bolnick will be selecting prehistoric skeletal elements for aDNA sampling and then performing the sample retrieval process at her lab on UT’s downtown campus. These samples will become part of her ongoing research into Native American genetic diversity following European contact in North America. In addition to her work with prehistoric remains and aDNA, Dr. Bolnick has also published research that pertains to modern commercial DNA testing and what the general public should know about interpreting the results of such tests in terms of validity and limitations. To read the article about Dr. Bolnick’s perspectives on the new fad of commercially available DNA tests, what the results can actually be used to determine, and how this trend could necessitate redefining ethnic identities and ancestral affiliations, please read the 2007 feature story here: http://www.utexas.edu/features/2007/ancestry/.
Dr. Bolnick has consistently made herself available to meet with staff to discuss her ongoing research, her sampling and testing methodologies and laboratory processes, and is also helping us to understand the value of the knowledge gained through such research. Well-versed in the sensitivities inherent to working with both modern and prehistoric human remains, Dr. Bolnick is a proponent of NAGPRA (Public Law 101-601, http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/mandates/25usc3001etseq.htm) and congenially responded to all of our questions and concerns born of our evolving dedication to NAGPRA here at TARL. An advocate for open dialog with tribal communities and the sharing of knowledge that results from her research efforts with cultural, academic and scientific entities, Dr. Bolnick well recognizes the value of collections like those at TARL. We in turn recognize that collections are best utilized when they continue to serve as resources for the progression of knowledge and understanding, providing researchers like Deborah Bolnick the means to further our understanding of our origins and, ultimately, ourselves.
Diane Ruetz and I have been volunteering at the Pflugerville Animal Shelter for about seven months now. As ‘dog walkers’ we’ve come to know the various quirks and distinct personalities of the long-term shelter dogs pretty well. Recently, one of the dogs who had been at the shelter for more than a year and who was often overlooked by visitors, was on a walk with a volunteer. Shelby, a sweet and playful mixed-breed dog, has a fondness for playing fetch in the water. No matter how small the pebble you throw into the creek for her to retrieve, she would consistently come bounding out with large rocks. One day she brought up something a lot more interesting than a rock. Read about Shelby’s ‘find’ and how the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory contributed to the story…and, we like to think, to her adoption by a loving family.
Shelby’s story on KXAN News (Austin area):
The below information was provided by TARL NAGPRA Specialist, Kerri Wilhelm, to Pflugerville Pets Alive following the discovery of the bone by Shelby. PPA hoped that the discovery, and the prehistoric perspective attributed to the find by TARL staff, might help to inspire some positive exposure for Shelby. They were right!
For more information on the Bonfire Shelter archaeological site, where the comparative bison bone (Bison antiquus) was originally discovered and the different kinds of information such finds can tell archaeological researchers at TARL, please visit the Bonfire Shelter webpages on Texas Beyond History: