Each October, dozens of historic sites, museums, universities, county historical commissions, and archeological facilities across Texas host public events and activities focused on archeology. Texas Archeology Month (TAM) takes a look at the broad sweep of human history in Texas and makes it accessible, fun, and relevant to audiences of all ages today.
Archeology is the discovery and study of the impacts humans have made on the land throughout millennia. The annual TAM commemoration celebrates that spirit of discovery and the richness of the history archeology informs—from uncovering dwelling sites of prehistoric hunters and gatherers to discovering historic shipwrecks and researching artifacts found at historic sites.
During TAM events, participants not only learn about the significance of archeological sites and discoveries, but also often see firsthand how professional and avocational archeologists do their work through demonstrations and hands-on activities. Some of the many diverse TAM activities include flint-knapping, basket weaving, and atlatl demonstrations; presentations on native edible plants; special museum exhibits; and mock excavations that allow children to sift through sand for “artifacts.”
As part of TAM last year, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) partnered with the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Archeological Research Laboratory to distribute more than 2,000 archeology activity kits for children containing pinch pots, coloring pages, and more. In 2022, more of these kits have been planned and prepared.
TAM is presented by the THC along with longtime partners such as the Texas Archeological Society, the Council of Texas Archeologists, universities, and local and regional archeological societies. The origins of the annual celebration date to April 1989, when the first Texas Archeology Awareness Week was held. The successful commemoration was then expanded to a full month and moved to October, which coincides with the Archeological Institute of America’s International Archaeology Day, held the third Saturday of October.
Another way the THC commemorates archeology in Texas is with the Curtis D. Tunnell Lifetime Achievement Award in Archeology. Named in honor of a former state archeologist and THC executive director, the award recognizes an individual for outstanding lifetime accomplishments in archeological research or preservation. It is presented each year at the THC’s Real Places conference, along with the other prestigious THC Preservation Awards, which recognize worthy accomplishments and exemplary leadership in the preservation of Texas’ heritage.
Last year’s recipient of the Tunnell Award was Christopher Lintz of Austin (left), a former archeologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and specialist in archeology of the southern High Plains region. He is currently a research associate at the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University in San Marcos, as well as a THC archeological steward. Archeological stewards are avocational archeologists who volunteer to help the THC’s small staff preserve and interpret the vast archeological landscape of Texas, which covers 266,807 square miles and 254 counties.
Archeological Insights at the Sites
Much of the THC’s current archeological work takes place at the agency’s 34 state historic sites, many of which exhibit archeological collections. Field work has been conducted at many of the sites, including San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site in San Felipe and Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site in Brazoria.
At San Felipe—the location of the headquarters of Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Mexican Texas—archeological work has revealed the locations of some buildings that were lost during the Runaway Scrape, when citizens intentionally burned San Felipe de Austin in March 1836 during the Texas Revolution, rather than let the town be captured by the advancing Mexican Army. Visitors to the site today can now see exactly where this iconic event took place.
At Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site, which opened to the public in June, investigations are helping tell the undertold stories of enslaved African Americans in Brazoria County. While the only remaining historic structure at the site is the plantation house, the property is archeologically rich, with more than 600,000 artifacts uncovered and ongoing investigations turning up a large cache of items that belonged to the enslaved workers (as shown in top photo).
The recently opened visitors center houses temporary exhibits and artifacts from the site, while an archeology lab allows visitors to see some of the daily work necessary to archive and preserve archeological and historical artifacts. The new lab features dormitories, a kitchen, and a classroom, allowing students and archeologists to stay onsite while conducting field work and public programming.
During TAM, visit Levi Jordan Plantation, San Felipe de Austin, additional THC state historic sites, and other participating sites and museums across Texas. To see the TAM calendar of events and learn about other THC archeological activities and resources, visit thc.texas.gov.