Texas Archeological Research Laboratory

By: Dee Ann Story

Type: General Entry

Published: March 1, 1996

Updated: May 14, 2019

The Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, a research unit of the College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, is a nationally recognized resource for the study of Texas archeology and the training of university students. Its beginnings go back to 1919, when the new Department of Anthropology began to amass the collections and records that were to become the largest and best-organized body of scientific archeological data in the state. The early efforts were modest until 1936, when funds from the Works Progress Administration made possible extensive excavations by university archeologists in coastal, eastern, central, and northern Texas. The onset of World War II, however, brought an end to the WPA programs and much of the institutionally based archeology in Texas. During the years immediately after the war, the university revived its archeological activities, and the federal government established a nationwide archeological rescue program for remains threatened by reservoir construction. As the government's investment in archeological recovery and historic preservation grew and the university's archeological graduate program expanded, the collections became increasingly important for comparative study as well as new research. However, over the years they had become scattered and not readily accessible, mainly because there was no central repository nor clearly designated curatorial responsibility. It was not until 1961 that the formidable tasks of consolidating and systematizing the artifact collections and site archives were begun as a cooperative venture of the Department of Anthropology, the Texas Memorial Museum, and the Texas Archeological Salvage (renamed Texas Archeological Survey, then TARL-Sponsored Projects). Two years later the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory was formally recognized by the university. It was funded through Organized Research and was assigned space at the Balcones Research Center (now the J. J. Pickle Research Campus) in northwest Austin. Since 1963 TARL has greatly expanded its facilities and programs. It consists of three subdivisions-Collections, Records, and Sponsored Projects-that function in distinct but complementary ways. Its director has a joint appointment with the Department of Anthropology and oversees a staff that averages about 30 persons. The funds for TARL's diverse operations now come a variety of sources: federal contracts, interagency cooperative agreements, and government and private grants. Since 1992, Friends of TARL (gifts from a statewide membership) have supported a variety of student and staff activities.

TARL Collections curates specimens from over 8,000 prehistoric and historic sites. In the 1990s they comprised over 3,300 complete ceramic vessels and hundreds of thousands of potsherds; numerous stone tools and the residue from their manufacture; containers, implements, and jewelry made from made basketry, cordage, wood, bone, and shell; items of metal and glass; and non-artifactual material-charcoal, animal bones, plant remains, and soil samples-for dating as well as the study of diet and past environments. TARL Records maintains the site-numbering system used throughout the state and curates information for over 55,000 sites. These files document over 70 years of archeological work in Texas, including the early excavations of the UT Department of Anthropology, Texas Memorial Museum, Works Progress Administration, Texas Archeological Salvage Project, and the Smithsonian Institution-National Park Service river basin surveys. They consist of site survey forms; more than 120,000 photographic prints, negatives, and color slides; maps; field notes; unpublished manuscripts; and relevant publications. TARL-Sponsored Projects provides services to governmental and private organizations in compliance with federal and state laws protecting archeological and historic properties. The cultural resource management projects are diverse and include record searches, historic archive studies, oral history compilations, field surveys, subsurface testing, excavation, and comprehensive reporting. TARL-SP also carries out research projects funded by private foundations and individual contributions. TARL's publications make these and other research findings available through several series: Studies in Archeology, Technical 1 Series, Archival Series, TARL Research Notes, Papers of the Colha Project (for research at the Maya site of Colha in Belize), and Newsletter of Friends of TARL. TARL has had two directors since its formal organization: Dee Ann Story (1963–87) and Thomas R. Hester (1987-). TARL continues to serve as a major repository for artifacts and site records amassed by university archeologists, as well as by archeologists working in Texas for state, federal, and private firms.

Helen Donovan Barnard, Early History of Research in Texas Archeology by the Department of Anthropology, and the History of the Anthropology Museum of the University of Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1939). E. Mott Davis, "The First Quarter Century of the Texas Archeological Society," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 50 (1979). Mike Kingston, "Archaeology: A Slow Start in Texas," Texas Almanac, 1994–95. Leo J. Klosterman, Loyd S. Swenson and Sylvia Rose, 100 Years of Science and Technology in Texas: A Sigma Xi Centennial Volume (Houston: Rice University Press, 1986).

  • Archeology
  • Organizations
  • Institutions

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Dee Ann Story, “Texas Archeological Research Laboratory,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-archeological-research-laboratory.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1996
May 14, 2019