Records and Archives
The massive collection of documents that today constitutes TARL's Site Records saw its beginnings around 1919 in a set of questionnaires directed to Texas public school teachers by Professor James E. Pearce, founder of the Department of Anthropology at UT Austin. Pearce wanted basic information about the types and distributions of archeological sites across the state. His questionnaires are some of the oldest primary documents in the TARL archives. Since that time, literally hundreds of different kinds of site records have made their way to TARL, everything from newspaper clippings to letters to today's official state site recording form. These primary documents are extremely valuable in scientific terms because many of them are the only existing record of archeological sites which have been destroyed by the many forces and faces of "progress," natural erosion, and purposeful destruction.
Today TARL houses records from over 76,000 individual sites organized by county and trinomial number and stored in filing cabinets within the Records Room. In order to safeguard site location (to protect private property from trespass and sites from vandalism and plunder), the site records at TARL are accessible only to legitimate archeological researchers. Basic site data are now available through the internet to qualified researchers via the Texas Archeological Sites Atlas. The site records at TARL include the primary documents (usually called "site forms") upon which the Atlas data is based as well as a variety of other kinds of documents including field notes, photographic logs, drawings, analysis notes, radiocarbon data forms, and artifact inventories, among many others.
The Smithsonian Trinomial system allows each officially recorded archeological site to be referenced with a single three-part (state-county-site) alpha-numeric designation. For example, 41BX228 is the 228th archeological site officially recorded in Bexar County, Texas (Texas being the 41st state at the time the system was devised). Many sites are also given names (e.g., the Panther Springs Creek site is 41BX228). Several cross-referenced files are maintained to keep track of site names and link older numbering systems and other designations to the trinomial designations.
Site and project records from some of the larger Cultural Resource Management (CRM) projects (contracted research done because of Federal and State laws), such as those often associated with the development of a major reservoir, are kept as a unit in archival-box shelving within the Records Room.
Map files include permanent copies of USGS 7.5' topographic maps on which site locations are plotted and map archives. Map archives consist of large, flat-filed archeological research documents including field and finished site maps, plan maps, profile drawings, project area maps, aerial photographs, and rock art tracings which are housed in special map cabinets that are organized by project or site.
TARL houses general and site-specific photographs from thousands of archeological sites and projects that dramatically proves, in some cases, that one picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Like the site records themselves, photographs are primary records that document a great many things and circumstances that no longer exist. The standard photographic medium of record is black-and-white photography. Through the years many different formats and film types have been used to photograph archeological sites. The oldest and most fragile photographic materials at TARL are glass plate and nitrate negatives, each stored in special housing within the Records Room. More modern, film-based, black-and-white photographs constitute the bulk of the print files housed in filing cabinets organized the same way the site records are (e.g., by county and site number). Some color prints are included in these files (and digital imagery is now making its way into the collection), but the standard color photographic format of record is color slide film. The color slides, likewise organized by county and site number, are stored in archival notebooks along the rear wall of the Records Room. The Photographic Archives are accessible only to qualified researchers and students, but images are also provided to museums, publishers, and for other educational purposes.
TARL's photographic archives also include a number of special collections donated by individual photographers including E. Mott Davis, Norman Flaigg, Alex Krieger, Wayne Neyland, and Wally Williams. These provide unique records of personal site visits, otherwise undocumented sites and collections, and many of the field schools of the Texas Archeological Society. TARL accepts new photographic collections on a case-by-case basis — neatly labeled and organized photographs are much more useful than boxes full of jumbled, unlabeled photographs. In order to prepare a photograph for the archives it must be identified, labeled, catalogued, and placed in acid-free archival sleeves, a costly and time-consuming process.
TARL Special Archives houses numerous manuscripts, field records, institutional records, correspondence, reports, photographs, and videos relating mainly to Texas archeology. These are available for examination by qualified researchers, but many of these documents and photographs are in fragile condition and must be handled with extreme care. As time and funding allows, we make acid-free copies of the most fragile documents and new prints of the older photographs so we can avoid handling the originals.
The publications housed at TARL are part of its research component. To ensure availability for all, all publications are only accessible for in-house use during normal business hours (M-F, 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM). These publications are a part of a self-contained system and not a part of the University of Texas library system. The TARL library primarily documents archeological work done on Texas sites, though it houses reference works in Texas history, geology, geography, and biology, and also contains works on archeological methodology. The collection comprises mainly reports from universities, state and federal agencies, archeological contracting firms, and archeological societies. The TARL library is one of the Texas Historical Commission's repositories for cultural resource management reports completed under an Antiquities Permit.