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University of St. Thomas(UST)
3800 Montrose
Houston TX TX 77006-4626
Room 009, Building 22, Doherty Library
Main No.: (713) 522-7911

When We Meet
Third Thursday of each month
Time: 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm

For meeting information
Email: Phone: 713-557-1496

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Finishing What We Started

2016 TAS Field School

Dr. Jason W. Barrett, Principal Investigator


We were all supposed to be going to the Angelina National Forest for the 2016 TAS Field School, and in the wake of Tropical Storm Bill that didn’t sound like a half bad idea. It would, however, have made for an unsatisfying ending to our work in Columbus – a sense of having left things unfinished. Fortunately that will not be our fate. We will instead venture again into the archeological No Man’s Land that is Colorado County.

This 2016 Texas Archeological Society Field School once again focuses on iconic elements of Texas history. At Cotton Field we will observe the lifeway transitions that followed the ultimate abandonment of atlatl-propelled weaponry once the bow and arrow was introduced and widely adopted. At the Bluff site, teams will investigate the pioneering enterprise of settling the new Texas frontier, where people left behind all that was familiar to forge new destinies. In town at the Tait family home, Youth Group volunteers will explore Columbus’ past through the lens of one of its oldest families.

If you joined us for the past two years you’ll remember the natural beauty and serenity of Colorado County and the Tait-Huffmeyer ranch, which for one last time provides the idyllic stage for our endeavors. Please join us this summer as we once again meet with old friends and new to pursue our collective passion for exploration and discovery. Rediscover Texas this summer with the TAS!

Cotton Field (41CD155)

Investigations at Cotton Field (41CD155), a site we will be returning to from the past two seasons, were substantially expanded for the 2015 TAS Field School, with Bryan Jameson and Tiffany Osburn continuing in their supervisory roles. Charles Frederick visited the site and conducted a preliminary geoarcheological study prior to the beginning of field school. His findings confirmed the very rare quality of the site’s stratigraphic integrity, identifying at least four and as many as six unique occupation zones. Interestingly, multiple discrete living surfaces were identified in both the Toyah interval-associated upper cultural horizon, as well as the Austin phase-associated lower cultural horizon.

Excavations were expanded east into a new section of the site for the 2015 Field School, where bison remains have proven to be abundant. Many of the excavation units from the 2014 season were also taken deeper, yielding significantly more data from the lower cultural horizon. Several new features were also discovered in both the upper and lower cultural horizons, appearing to represent butchering areas and thermal cooking features. Unfortunately, little progress was made in their excavation as the weather limited our time and abilities during the rain-shortened 2015 field season.

Based on preliminary findings from the past two field seasons, the site was thought to represent a deeply buried Late Prehistoric (approx. AD 600-1450) site featuring the well-stratified deposits from two distinct cultural horizons. Features of the site were noted to include remarkable organic preservation, and a seemingly endless number of cooking features and other activity areas. Periodic excavations continued at the site after the 2015 Field School however, revealing a previously undiscovered and more deeply buried cultural horizon. Presently this older horizon is represented by a circular arrangement of large cobbles, possibly associated with a posthole that was discovered just inside the ring. While we cannot be certain until more of the feature is excavated, it’s possible that this represents the remains of an Archaic period structure erected at this location over two thousand years ago.

One of the truly interesting and unique aspects of Cotton Field is in the number and nature of features we have continued to find, as well as the artifacts associated with them. We're finding a scattering of projectile points, but not in great numbers. It seems likely that this is because the prehistoric inhabitants were discarding those up on Pyramid while they quarried chert cobbles and knapped them into new tools. Instead, we are finding evidence from a wide range of food processing and related activities that seems to have included butchering, hide processing, plant processing, and meal preparation. The tool assemblage we are recovering goes well beyond points, and actually reflects the true variability observed among formal and informal artifact types in use during this part of prehistory. Better yet, as we are finding them in context with well-preserved features, we can assess the nature of their use with far greater certainty than is typically ever possible.

Once Field School begins, crews at Cotton Field will establish excavation blocks and begin intensive hand excavation. The entire site area is partially shaded by trees, and tarps will be used to provide additional shade as needed. Some bending, lifting, and kneeling will be required. Volunteers will learn archeological techniques for controlled hand excavation, how to identify prehistoric artifacts, methods for mapping cultural features, how to identify and record geological information from soil profiles, and how to record provenience data using a TDS.

Bluff Cabins (41CD124)

New excavations are planned for the Bluff site (41CD124) during the 2016 season, with Joe Rogers and Art Tawater returning as supervisors. Joe’s excavations at the main cabin site had finally identified an intact wall alignment on the last day of the 2014 season, and the goal for last year was to follow that wall, hoping it would lead to additional structural features. Alas, excavations at the main cabin during the 2015 Field School were not extensive enough to reveal significant new information with respect to the architectural properties of the structure. This season we will continue to explore remnant wall alignments with the goal of deducing the structure’s form with reasonable accuracy. We may also learn more about the Late to Transitional Archaic prehistoric site (ca. 1000 BC – 600 AD) also located at the bluff, the lithic assemblage from which we have regularly found intermixed with that from the Euro-American cabin.

Art’s investigations at a second location in the vicinity of the cabin in 2014 led to the discovery of intact foundation elements from a previously undocumented structure. The new structure featured a provocative artifact assemblage, including a gilded US Infantry button manufactured between 1834 and 1836 and the rusty, but very identifiable remains of two cast steel woodworking tools. Our limited excavations in 2015 added little to what we know of that structure architecturally. Excavations adjacent to the exposed structural remains did yield several new artifacts, including buttons and fragments of china. Date ranges associated with those artifacts are consistent with those discovered last season, which support a mid-to-late 19th century period of use for the building. Our plan for 2016 includes uncovering more of the mystery structure, hoping to determine its design and function. We also hope that additional artifacts will be recovered which might lead us to discover to whom the structure belonged.

Shade will be constructed at the Bluff as this is an open site. Some shoveling will be required, but the deposits are not deep. Please remember to pack knee pads as kneeling on exposed bedrock may be unavoidable. Volunteers will learn archeological techniques for controlled hand excavation, how to identify and document historic artifacts, methods for mapping architectural features, and how to record provenience data using a TDS.

Youth Area: The Tait House (41CD153)

Planning for the 2016 TAS Field School includes continuing the Youth Group excavations in downtown Columbus at the Tait family residence. Construction of the antebellum home dates to the period 1856-1858, and it has been owned and maintained by members of the Tait family ever since. Participants can expect lots of shade and plenty of artifacts dating from the pre-Civil War era to the mid-twentieth century. New excavations will complement and inform our discoveries from the past two field schools and the spring 2015 TAS Archeology 101 Academy. Under the direction of Doug Boyd, our youngest TAS members have discovered buried architectural features, including foundation footings and a brick floor surface. Youth excavators began to probe beneath the brick floor last year, and as Boyd had hoped, the intact surface sealed beneath it an uncompromised, mid-19th century assemblage. Scattered about the physical remnants of long-vanished structures, volunteers have found a wealth of artifacts, with some dating back to the arrival of the Tait family in Columbus. As the ultimate goal of our investigations at this locality, the TAS Field School would continue in its pursuit of a more lucid understanding of how the material nature of daily life transformed over time on the Texas frontier, focusing on the first century of Anglo-American settlement. In addition to the thrill of discovery, the rewards of teamwork, and the gift of expert instruction, Youth Group participants will enjoy a number of fun and educational field trips throughout the week.


The rustic sharecropper’s cabin at the junction of the roads to Bluff and Cotton Field will again serve as the location of our field lab. Marybeth Tomka will reprise her role as Lab Director, making sure that all things newly discovered don’t become freshly lost. As always, she will need the assistance of a small, dedicated crew for washing and keeping track of our artifact inventory. Lab volunteers get to see and touch every artifact found at Field School at the minor cost of a few pruned fingers. The lab is beautifully situated under old, majestic live oaks and well shaded. Volunteers will learn techniques for identifying and treating historic and prehistoric artifacts. Several lucky volunteers may get to help paleoethnobotanist Leslie Bush with her macrobotanical analysis and discover a fun new way to stay cool on a hot day!

Recommended Gear

Not a lot has changed over the past two years. Columbus is still located on the Post Oak Savannah, in Texas’ Gulf Coastal Plains Region. Summer months typically feature hot and variably humid conditions, so for the sake of comfort please pack field clothes that are made from breathable materials such as cotton or light weight, breathable synthetic blends with moisture wicking properties. Also, light colors may not seem like the logical choice for digging in the dirt, but they will keep you cooler. Long-sleeve shirts and pants will better protect you from the sun, critters, thorns, and such, and wide brim hats will offer better protection for your nose, ears, and neck. Remember to bring rain gear (and just say a little prayer that you won’t need it).

Sturdy footwear with good ankle support is a field staple. Hiking boots with Vibram soles and good traction are recommended (unless you’re only working in the lab, in which case you may want something lighter). As a precaution, please remember to bring insect repellant. You’ll want to spray around your boots if you are in an area favorable to ticks or chiggers. Regardless of which site you work on, useful items to consider for your field pack include a trowel, hand pick/geology rock hammer, clipboard, a metric tape measurer (3m or 5m size), root clippers, gloves (with or without fingers), line level, soil scoop or dust pan, field notebook, kneeling pad, field chair/stool, pencils, multiple size Sharpies, calculator, a water bottle, a personal first aid kit, and a cell phone with a backup battery. Conveniently, cell phone signals are fairly good across the ranch. Both Crew Chiefs and Area Supervisors will be required to have a cell phone available at all times as a means of communication with the director, camp manager, lab, and emergency personnel. In addition to the items mentioned above, Crew Chiefs and Area Supervisors will also want to consider having a GPS unit, compass, digital camera and flash drive for transferring photos, a Munsell color manual, a whistle for signaling, a machete, and flagging tape.

Remember that water is the most critical resource for your comfort and survival, and you may need to drink up to one gallon per day to avoid dehydration. Water coolers will be available at each of the sites, but you may want to bring extra bottles and a daypack able to carry them all. Your body will also demand that you replace all the salt that you are losing through sweating, so consider drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade which replenish valuable electrolytes while helping you to remain hydrated. You may alternatively want to keep a ready supply of salty snacks or salt tablets in your day pack.

And don’t forget to bring your camera! Please do not take site or artifact photos with cell phones. Cell phone photos often have embedded GPS locational data than can be accessed, which could cause sites on the Tait-Huffmeyer Ranch to be at risk for looting. Finally, while not expressly prohibited, I discourage volunteers from listening to music through headphones while in the field. This can cause you to miss important instructions or warnings, and also tends to isolate people rather than encourage them to enjoy one another’s excellent company.

Recommended Reading

Those interested in reading about prehistoric ways of life a little further up the Colorado River can check out Texas Beyond History’s review of the McKinney Roughs Site here:

Don’t forget the latest version of the Hymnal, field school essential: Turner, E.S., T.R. Hester, and R.L. McReynolds (2011) A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. Revised 3rd Edition. Taylor Trade Publishing.

A comprehensive overview of what we currently know about prehistoric Texas from the field’s leading researchers (finally available in affordable paperback): Perttula, Timothy K. (2013) The Prehistory of Texas. Texas A&M University Press.

Last year’s best-selling tome on what being an archeologist is really like, written by the Public Forum speaker at this year’s TAS Annual Meeting: Johnson, Marilyn (2014) Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Harper.

A great resource for learning expert field methods for those looking to perfect their art: Hester, T.R., H.J. Shafer, and K.L. Feder (2009) Field Methods in Archaeology. 7th Edition. Left Coast Press.


To learn more about the history behind our archeological society contact Publicity/Outreach:

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