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Just Barely in Texas: The 1986 TAS Field School

Crew chief Rob Vantil points out the progress in the excavation of Room 22, one of the deeper pithouses.
Crew chief Rob Vantil points out the progress in the excavation of Room 22, one of the deeper pithouses.

Ken Keller, one of the school's photographers, perches on a ladder to record the excavation of Room 7.
Ken Keller, one of the school's photographers, perches on a ladder to record the excavation of Room 7.

Excavation stops while everybody seems to be reflecting on the finding of an "ancient" dust pan.
Excavation stops while everybody seems to be reflecting on the finding of an "ancient" dust pan.

Excavator looks over the artifacts just found as he prepares field notes.
Excavator looks over the artifacts just found as he prepares field notes.

Jay Sharp, photographer for the fieldschool, examines rock art in The Franklin Mountains.
Jay Sharp, photographer for the fieldschool, examines rock art in The Franklin Mountains.

Mike Bilbo and ranger from Hueco Tanks discuss Pueblo period petroglyphs in Fusselman Canyon.
Mike Bilbo and ranger from Hueco Tanks discuss Pueblo period petroglyphs in Fusselman Canyon.

Yes, there are trees in west Texas, and the campground was a great place to gather and talk EM although the nearly constant drum of generators from the nearby electric plant did get tiresome.
Yes, there are trees in west Texas, and the campground was a great place to gather and talk—although the nearly constant drum of generators from the nearby electric plant did get tiresome.

Lab Director Jack Hedrick discusses pottery of the El Paso region in one of the afternoon talks.
Lab Director Jack Hedrick discusses pottery of the El Paso region in one of the afternoon talks.

A well-stocked and well-organized lab.
A well-stocked and well-organized lab.

Janice Keller keeps a cool head while digging.
Janice Keller keeps a cool head while digging.

The food was most excellent, and these Job Corps chefs and trainees received many compliments.
The food was excellent, and these Job Corps chefs and trainees received many compliments. One plate just wasn't enough for Jim Schmidt.

The 1986 TAS field school was billed as the "just-barely-in-Texas TAS field school," as it was within El Paso and only a few miles from borders with New Mexico and Mexico. In addition, the archeology was different from that experienced at most TAS field schools because it dealt with cultural remains tied to Southwestern traditions. Adobe-walled rooms, painted pottery, and turquoise jewelry were the draw of this field school, and participants in the field or in the lab were enjoined to learn about pueblo culture.

Fieldwork centered on the site of Firecracker Pueblo. The investigation of this site had begun in 1980, and by the time of the TAS field school, much was known. A pueblo had been identified that consisted of no more than 20 rooms including habitation rooms, storage rooms, and a large communal or ceremonial room. A number of somewhat small and isolated rooms had also been found, but their relationship to the pueblo was not clear. Outside activity areas had been investigated to a limited extent, and this revealed a variety of features and considerable trash. In general, this site appeared to be typical of the many hundreds of other small pueblos in the region.

The TAS field school added considerably to the knowledge of the site and helped focus investigation in following years. During the field school, additional rooms of the pueblo were excavated, many isolated rooms and pithouses were identified and several excavated, and outside areas and features were delimited and examined. As a result of the field school, an occupation that predated the pueblo was recognized, architectural forms (pithouses) not previously noted for the pueblo period were documented, patterns of outside features and activities were being defined for the first time for a site of this period, and cultural materials and special samples were retrieved that helped make this site the most intensively and best documented pueblo site for the region.

In addition to the excavations at Firecracker Pueblo, participants assisted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) with a survey of lands in the Franklin Mountains west of the pueblo and helped with the investigation of a mission in the Rio Grande Valley. The survey directed by Ron Ralph of TPWD focused on recording mining camps, caves and rock art sites that were known but poorly documented. Dr. Rex Gerald of the University of Texas at El Paso ran test excavations at the late seventeenth- to eighteenth-century site of Mission Socorro. This mission was for Piro Indians brought to El Paso from New Mexico at the time of the Pueblo Revolt.

Other activities associated with the field school included tours of the rock art at Hueco Tanks State Park, a tour of the Old Mission Trail, visits to museums, and afternoon and evening lectures and discussions, as well as tasting the border life through shopping and dining in El Paso and Juarez. Craft activities, a visit to the Tonka toy factory, and basketball games made life more enjoyable for the young ones, and some adults. As with other field schools, guitars and voices straining for unison could occasionally be heard. E. Mott Davis, of course, closed the field school in his traditional way.

The food was better than that at some field schools, courtesy of struggling new chefs made available through the Job Corps. The campground was convenient and worked very well—it would have been perfect if it weren't for the constant hum of generators at the nearby electric plant. Carol Hedrick spearheaded arrangements for the field school. Camp boss was Gene Collins. Lab director was Jack Hedrick. Field supervisors were E. Mott Davis and Ann Fox. Just about everyone who attended had a role. It was a bit amazing to see nearly 200 people assemble, live together, and disappear within 10 days.leaving only footprints and a whole lot of memories.

To become a part of TAS and experience the fun and education at field school and other events, visit www.txarch.org. Now in its 73rd year, TAS is one of the oldest and most successful archeological societies in North America. They offer training for anyone interested in archeology, including special programs for teachers and kids.

Early morning and TAS members disperse to their units at Firecracker Pueblo.
Early morning and TAS members disperse to their units at Firecracker Pueblo.

Looking west, from the area of Rooms 7 and 8.
Looking west, from the area of Rooms 7 and 8.

Excavations in progress; the green shade tents provided welcome shade, but didn't improve the lighting for photography.
Excavations in progress; the green shade tents provided welcome shade, but didn't improve the lighting for photography.

Excavations in progress.
Excavations in progress.

Bob Smith and others in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, surveying land for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Bob Smith and others in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, surveying land for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

James Everett directs the childrens group in the first work in Room 7.
James Everett directs the children's group in the first work in Room 7.


Part of the lab crew cleaning artifacts.
Part of the lab crew cleaning artifacts.

James Everett and his crew midway in the excavation of Room 7 of the pueblo.
James Everett and his crew midway in the excavation of Room 7 of the pueblo.

Click images to enlarge  


E. Mott Davis considers the layout of excavation units to test the western part of the site.
E. Mott Davis considers the layout of excavation units to test the western part of the site.

Young or old, everyone screens.
Young or old, everyone screens.

Crew chief Bill Parnell taking time to keep up with notes.
Crew chief Bill Parnell taking time to keep up with notes.

The rock art: mountain sheep with spear, a late Archaic style pictograph.
The rock art: mountain sheep with spear, a late Archaic style pictograph.

Making whistles was one of the craft activities for the youth group.
Making whistles was one of the craft activities for the youth group.

By the end of the field school, Camp Boss Gene Collins needed a hat to remember his name. Keeping things running smoothly was no easy thing.
By the end of the field school, Camp Boss Gene Collins needed a hat to remember his name. Keeping things running smoothly was no easy thing.

Afternoon talks provided an opportunity for "hands on" presentations of the archeology of the El Paso area.
Afternoon talks provided an opportunity for "hands on" presentations of the archeology of the El Paso area.

This is called getting into your work—or cooling off West Texas style. One of two teenagers whose responsibility was the processing of flotation samples.
This is called getting into your work—or cooling off West Texas style. One of two teenagers whose responsibility was the processing of flotation samples.

Supervisors and crew chiefs meet with the field director, Tom O'Laughlin, to review activities and findings of the day.
Supervisors and crew chiefs meet with the field director, Tom O'Laughlin, to review activities and findings of the day.