The Texas Antiquities Committee was established by the Texas Antiquities Code, passed in 1969 by the state legislature for the protection, preservation, and interpretation of the publicly owned archeological and cultural resources, antiquities, and historic buildings of Texas. Code revisions occurred in 1977 (in the Texas Natural Resources Code), 1983, and 1987. Like other state agencies, the committee is subject to the Texas Sunset Act. The agency has evolved into a national leader in historic preservation, and the Texas Antiquities Code is used as a model by several other states. With the passage of the code it became "public policy to locate, protect, and preserve all sites, objects, buildings, pre-twentieth century shipwrecks, and locations of historical, archeological, educational or scientific interest . . . in, on, or under any of the land in the State, including the tidelands, submerged land, and the bed of the sea within the jurisdiction of the state." Not only are all archeological sites on state-owned lands declared state archeological landmarks and the sole property of the state, but the agency acts as legal custodian of all recovered and retained Texas archeological resources and artifacts; maintains an inventory of items recovered; determines the site of and designates as state archeological landmarks sites nominated by individuals, institutions, or corporations holding title to property where they are located; removes the designation from certain sites; provides for discovery and salvage operations; considers requests and issues permits and contracts for excavation and investigation of sites and objects for research; salvages information and specimens threatened with destruction; and serves as a public forum for the expression of public interest in this area.
In 1992 the nine-member TAC board included the commissioner of the General Land Office, the executive director of the Texas Water Commission, the engineer-director of the Texas Department of Transportation, and the director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Expertise on historical matters came from the chairman of the Texas Historical Commission and an appointed professional historian with knowledge of Texas history and culture; and knowledge of archeology and curatorship came from the state archeologist, the director of a major state museum, and a professional archeologist from a recognized Texas museum or institution of higher education. Although it functions under its own board, the TAC is integrated with the Texas Historical Commission. Employees of the committee are considered employees of the commission and share THC office space, support facilities, and services. The TAC budget is a line item in the THC budget.
The first action by the TAC was to enlist the cooperation of state agencies with jurisdiction over public lands in observing the Antiquities Code. The first antiquities permit on public lands was issued in 1970. An increase in subsequent years reflected greater development, as in highway and reservoir construction. Impetus for enactment of Texas Antiquities Code legislation under consideration before 1969 was provided by the Platoro incident, in which treasure was illegally salvaged from a shipwreck off Padre Island. A major task of the newly established agency was to follow up the incident with an underwater archeological investigation of Spanish treasure ships wrecked in 1554 near Mansfield Cut off Padre Island (see PADRE ISLAND SPANISH SHIPWRECKS OF 1554). The TAC systematically excavated the wreck of the San Esteban, the sister ship of the Espíritu Santo, which Platoro, Incorporated, had plundered, and generated a major exhibit of recovered artifacts that was shown to more than 280,000 Texans in major Texas cities. A series of publications and a documentary film shown nationally on the Public Broadcasting System and distributed to schools also resulted.
Between 1974 and 1980 the committee conducted field investigations with emphasis on resource management rather than in-depth excavation of a single site. Under the guidance of the state marine archeologist, who served as a TAC staff member, the committee focused on its preservation role by determining historic shipwreck locations and protecting them from dredging, pipeline laying, and related causes of disturbance or destruction. The TAC also made electronic surveys covering areas where many shipwrecks probably occurred to allow companies pursuing activities such as oil and gas development to proceed without fear of damage to important sites. Other construction projects were regularly reviewed for possible impact on archeological sites or historic buildings on public lands, and mitigative work was done when adverse impact seemed likely. All new projects require environmental-impact statements. Permits are also issued to cover investigation of sites of long-established significance, such as the Alamo, where land-altering projects or archeological investigations are accorded close scrutiny. By 1982 permits were also issued for restoration work on important public historic buildings.