Eileen Berger, Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Have you ever wondered about the people who lived in your house or apartment before you moved in? What about the first humans who visited this part of Texas, before it was Texas? The study of human occupation in an area is called archeology. You may see it also spelled archeaology. Either spelling is correct. Technically, it is the scientific study of ancient peoples, by excavation of ancient cities or examining relics. It can also include the study of historic relics only 100-150 years old. Now, you may be more interested in animals and plants than humans, and you would be studying paleontology. Dinosaur hunters are one kind of paleontologist. My dictionary defines paleontology as the branch of geology dealing with prehistoric life through the study of fossils. I only mention this because I have been known to confuse the two terms. For the moment though, let’s get back to archeology.
The area of Texas that we live in was very popular with the early Native Americans. It provided all the necessities of life, namely food, water, space and a temperate climate. As a repository of documentation of discoveries about our archeological past, the Texas Archeology Society has been active in the state for many years. It provides both amateur archeologists and professionals a way to share discoveries, debate methods, and chronicle the activities of those studying our rich past. Anyone who has grown up in Texas has probably known someone who has found an “arrowhead” or “bird point”. For example, many times a farmer would be plowing or cultivating a field and chance upon a piece of flint that was obviously not naturally formed. A good reference for identification of any you may have stored in your dresser drawer is A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians by Ellen Sue Turner and Thomas R. Hester.
If you are interested in recent or prehistoric human occupation, the Texas Archeology Society makes it easy for you to learn what archeologists do, and actually participate in “digs”. Each year, they hold several learning opportunities, including a 3 day class entitled Archeology 101. The class was held in San Antonio March 11-13. Two members of the Indian Trail chapter ofTexas Master Naturalists participated in the class. It was led by a professional and facilitated by Texas Archology Society members. Classroom and field work culminated on Sunday by actually participating in the ongoing excavation of the Rancho de Las Cabras in Floresville, Texas. The National Park Service is in the process of excavating this site which was one of the ranches connected with the Missions in San Antonio. Although it is some 20 miles south of the missions, the inhabitants of the Rancho raised cattle which were driven to the mission every 10 days to supply the mission with meat.
To see all the activities the TAS offers, you can visit their website http://www.txarch.org or call (210)458-4393. The headquarters are located at Center for Archaeological Research, One UTSA Circle, San Antonio, TX 78249-0658. Office hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 9 A.M. until 2 P.M. Each summer, the organization holds a field school which will take place in Hondo/Medina County. There are opportunities for adult and teenage participation in both historic and prehistoric excavation or laboratory. If this sounds like your idea of fun, check out this educational site.