How Texas is Curated
During the Summer 2015 semester I completed an internship with the Texas Historical Commission in Austin Texas. The internship included work with the La Belle shipwreck project at the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum, research on various state SHPO, state historic preservation offices, and their curation/ archaeological requirements, and working on various steps in the curation process with lithics from a rock shelter and pottery from the Socorro Mission project.
Texas Historical Commission
Every state has a SHPO office, and I worked in the location based in Texas. These offices are in charge of archaeological site regulations along with artifact and records curation. My time at the Texas Historical Commission was spent working with Brad Jones, the Archaeology Collections and CFCP Manager. In this position, Brad is in charge of a multitude of sites from across Texas and is responsible for insuring the correct curation and recording of such sites. With this internship, I am able to further my interests in the field of Archaeology and pursue career opportunities. Without such an internship, any real world experience in this field would have been difficult to ascertain, and any future career opportunities would fall short of what I can now accomplish.
Within the Texas Historical Commission, my duties as an intern varied. I normally worked on projects for either Brad or any of his co-workers, but from time to time I researched future projects that needed curation. This included a site from El Paso numbered, with the Smithsonian trinomial system, 41EP1532. I also did research into other State Historic Preservation Offices, or a SHPO, for Brad so that he may better understand regulations from other states. The La Belle and the rock shelter site are examples of significant archaeological endeavors by the Texas Historical Commission, which allow archaeologists to further research into Texas History.
Working with Lithics
There are broad and vast projects at the Texas Historical Commission. Large amounts of artifacts, including lithics, flood into the SHPO office from sites all over Texas. Because of this, I had the chance to work in a variety of situations including learning about curation techniques, cultures, and artifact analysis. Lithic analysis is extremely important in Central Texas due to the abundant access to chert. Many Native American cultures used chert as tools, projectile points, and for various everyday tasks.
My most important project at the Texas Historical Commission was a rock shelter site in Gillespie county labeled 41GL471. Many lithics were gathered out of this shelter ranging from primary debitage to full projectile points and Bifaces. My project with 41GL471, as the sole curator, ranged dramatically from the beginning to the end. This was by far the most significant and eye opening portion of my internship and it has assisted me in understanding Central Texas lithics and furthering my career into archaeology.
On the first day of my internship I was assigned with the task of washing the lithics obtained from 41GL471. Washing artifacts is usually the first step in the curation process and can require many hours to do a small batch of lithics. Next, categorization into specimen inventory forms was mandatory. Beginning with debitage, a category that contains the lithics caused from unused debris, I separated out three groups: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. Separating out these groups is, to some extent, based on personal preference, but at the Texas Historical Commission I was instructed to follow specific criteria. Greater than 99% of the cortex remaining is classified as primary, 1-99% of cortex remaining is classified as secondary, and no cortex remaining is classified as tertiary. Next, I was required to loosely analyze the rest of the artifacts that had signs of use or further shaping. I categorized lithics into different categories consisting of various types of projectile points, edge modified flakes, bifaces, and ground stones. For the use of determining projectile points and some bifaces, I used a book titled, A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians, which assisted me in differing one projectile point from another. Due to this site residing in an area where Brad was unfamiliar, it was up to me to figure out which points would be categorized correctly. Points varied from common central Texas Perdiz points to the less common Young points (Turner, Hester: 2011). After this, the specimen inventory sheets are entered into the Texas Historical Commission data base.
Categorization of such artifacts eventually leads up to one point: full analyzation. New specimen analysis forms were introduced which required more information than previously. Maximum heights, widths, and thicknesses had to be recorded for each part of the artifact. For projectile points, this included the blade, stem, and maximum overall dimensions. Stem/base type was also required, along with the base attribute. The stem/base type dealt with figuring out whether the point had a contracting, straight, rounded, etc. stem. The base attribute dealt with the shape of whether the base was convex, concave, or flat. Any additional descriptive information was then required; this included broken tips, altered edge angles, and inclusions. Extreme precision was required in this section and a page on analyzing projectile points out of the Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians was extremely useful. An example would be discussing how the distal lateral right edge was chipped, or the proximal left should was altered.
The analysis section of the curation process was where my time with site 41GL471 ended. After bagging and tagging each artifact into a carefully organized bag and placing them into a box, the records and artifacts were stored until further analysis of the site was necessary. For the moment, little is known about the overarching significance of the site; however it was a very good introduction into what Central Texas archaeology is like. Texas archaeologists can now focus on further studying the cultural significance of the site and worry less about the preservation of artifacts.
La Belle: The Failed La Salle Expedition
The most extensive project that the Texas Historical Commission as a whole has worked on would be the La Belle shipwreck. Considered one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world, it tends to grab more public attention than normal archaeological sites. With excavations beginning in 1996, it has stretched until present day with work pertaining to curation, organization, and public presentation. One of the goals of the La Belle excavations was to gain more interest from the public sphere. This included the seven Odyssey museums and a video shown in the Bob Bullock museum which is available for free to the public at the Texas Historical Commission’s website. A highlight of my internship was being behind the scenes at the Bob Bullock museum working on the La Belle artifacts.
The Odyssey Museums were an extensive expedition through which visitors could experience a different part of the La Belle. The first museum, located in The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, was titled the Birth of an Expedition. It describes King Louis XIV’s plan to enlarge his territory in the New World by sending La Salle’s four ships and 400 crew members to the mouth of the Mississippi to uncover Spanish silver mines (Bob Bullock). The second of the museums was located in the Texas Maritime Museum in Rockport. It was titled the Daily Life on Board the Belle. Analogous to its name, the exhibit showcased a series of artifacts pertaining to the crew on board the La Belle. This assisted the public in understanding what it would be like to live within this period. The third museum, located at the Texas Museum in Edna, showcased an exhibit entitled The Native Americans Who Watched the French Come Ashore. With this installment, the public was able to understand how the Karankawa Native Americans viewed the French as an unknown group of people were coming into their lands. The fourth exhibit was located at the Calhoun County Museum, in port Lavaca, and contained the exhibit The Clash of Empires in 17th- Century North America. This was less of a direct La Belle exhibit since it did not discuss specific La Belle artifacts. Instead, it was used to portray new technology which had entered the New World. After this, the Fifth exhibit at the Museum of the Coastal Bend in Victoria appeared. It was titled La Salle’s Doomed Colony on the Texas Coast. La Salle’s colony off of the coast of the Matagorda Bay was doomed to fail from the start, and this exhibit showcases artifacts and stories pertaining to the site called Fort St. Louis.
The sixth exhibit, located at the Matagorda County Museum in Bay City, was a fascinating attempt by the Texas Historical Commission to reach out to the public and expose what archaeology is and what it looks like. Titled The Extraordinary Excavation that Uncovered the Belle, the exhibit takes a trip into the intricacies of the coffer dam placed around the site and how archaeologists were able to extract and curate the artifacts. This type of excavation, using a coffer dam, was the first attempt ever made. This opens up a new technique that archaeologists can use in the future. The seventh and last exhibit was not, in fact, in a museum. Instead, it was a traveling exhibit that was a half-scale replica of the La Belle called La Petite Belle. It served, as the Texas Historical Commission puts it, as “The La Salle Odyssey’s traveling ambassador” (THC). The La Belle now rests in the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin Texas where the hull of the ship is still under constant reconstruction in the newly developed showroom. This allows the public to come face to face with the famed shipwreck. Seeing the ship, as both a museum goer and a curator, has allowed me to appreciate how difficult it is for the curation team to work under the eyes of the public. The exhibit, titled La Belle: The Ship that Changed History, will tell a story of the La Belle, the sailors of the
ship, and the Native Americans who encountered the colonists (Bob Bullock). The museum will also feature a 4-D film that depicts the journey that the colonists made and how the Fort St. Louis failed as a colony.
Over all, the Texas Historical Commission, in accordance with other museums in both Texas and France, is attempting to reach out to the public sphere in a way unknown to this field. Due to archaeology being a subject that most people outside of the field overlook, it has been a struggle to grasp a wider audience than museum goers and archaeologists. With the help of a wide variety of installations, along with an ongoing process of outreach work, they hope to gain the attention necessary to make an impact on the world through archaeology.
My time at the Texas Historical Commission has been well spent. By working with a large number of archaeologists and other interns, I have gained connections into a field that I once imagined difficult to join. From my lithics project, to researching different state SHPO offices, to being behind the scenes of the La Belle, I have become a more-rounded archaeologist. I am now in the process of applying to the SHPO office in Denver Colorado and the Denver Museum of Natural Science and History. Via my SHPO research project, I was able to begin discussions with the SHPO Officer in Denver and will be traveling there soon to meet her.
“La Belle- The Exhibit.” The Story of Texas- Bob Bullock Museum.
“La Salle Archaeology Projects.” Texas Historical Commission.
“The Le Salle Odyssey.” Texas Historical Commission.
Turner, Ellen Sue, and Thomas R. Hester. Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. Completely Rev. 3rd
- Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2011.
Weddle, Robert. “La Salle Expedition.” Texas State Historic Association