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TAS Field Schools 1997 and 1998: Behind the Scenes at the Mission Excavations

Crew chiefs gather for daily meeting under the trees. Enlarge image
TAS crew, including archeologist Tiffany Terneny and Bill Birmingham at right, work at the second mission locale (41VT10) in Victoria Park. Photo by Doug Boyd. Enlarge image

Members of the Texas Archeological Society participated in two, week-long field schools in the summers of 1996 and 1997 under the direction of Dr. Thomas R. Hester. Field school headquarters and a tent camp for participants were established on a private ranch where the third mission site (41VT11) is located. In addition to work at that site, which uncovered the remains of the mission and lime kiln, members conducted archeological surveys through dense thorny brush on neighboring ranches and tested additional sites, including the second location of Mission Espiritu Santo (41VT10) in Victoria City Park. During the course of the field schools, new members as well as younger participants in the TAS Youth Program learned the intricacies of excavation, screening, and cataloguing artifacts. Programs and demonstrations, on such topics as making aboriginal pottery over an open fire, were given throughout the week.

Archeologist and expert potter Chuck Hixson prepares for a demonstration on firing ceramics. Enlarge image
Plotting strategies at the supervisors meeting with Field School directors Tamra Walter (second from left) and Thomas R. Hester (right). Enlarge image

The evening meeting with TAS stalwarts Norman Flaigg, Andi Comini, and Frances and Teddy
Stickney. Enlarge image
Tom Middlebrook and Ellen Sue Turner share a private joke. Enlarge image
Colorful, controlled chaos in the kids area. TAS allows members as young as six to participate. Enlarge image
Field school boss Bryan Jameson probes the depths of the lime kiln. Enlarge image

During the 1997 field school, members enjoyed swimming and tubing in the nearby Guadalupe River during off-work hours, especially when temperatures frequently pushed into triple digits.At the 1998 field school, however, operations periodically were set back by rains that drenched excavation units. The rains brought mixed blessings before and after as well. In the spring prior to the start of field school, heavy downpours caused the Guadalupe to flood its banks, serendipitously exposing the first traces of a Spanish Colonial lime kiln in the riverbank. TAS members excavated the kiln, which emerged in an excellent state of preservation in spite of almost 300 years of exposure to the river's whims. Given the important materials that were uncovered, the excavations came in the nick of time. In the Fall following the 1998 field school, monsoon rains sent the Guadalupe on a historic rampage, flooding the countryside well beyond its banks. Some compared its size to that of the mile- wide Mississippi.

Color-coded flags mark "hot spots" identified during remote sensing at 41VT11. Enlarge image
Don't fall in the kiln! Crew members keep a belt-lock on a fellow worker as he peers into the depths of the kiln. Enlarge image
Spanish Colonial archeology experts Kay Hindes (left) and Kathleen Gilmore discuss work at the second mission locale (41VT10). Enlarge image
Young TAS member Gena Boyd takes notes while archeologist Jennifer McWilliams uses a total data station (TDS) to shoot locations in the 41VT10
complex. Enlarge image
Sweaty TAS survey crews braved intense heat and dense thickets of thorny brush as they tracked the course of the Spanish Colonial acequia near the site of the mission's third location. Enlarge image
Torrential rains flooded streets and the site area before, during, and after the 1998 field school. Enlarge image
In the flood's wake. Field school directors Thomas R. Hester (in pith helmet) and Tamra Walter examine the layer of mud deposited by Guadalupe River flood waters. Photo by Curt Harrell. Enlarge image

In spite of weather and often difficult conditions, the TAS members persevered, making considerable contributions to our understanding of life at the missions and Spanish Colonial architecture. In the process, they had a great time.

The TAS field school is held annually to promote learning in archeology, contribute to archeological knowledge about prehistoric and historic sites, and provide a great community experience. To learn more about becoming a member, visit the TAS website.

Editor's note: This section benefited from the thoughts and recollections of May Schmidt, TARL librarian and 30-year+ TAS field school attendee.

Jack Eaton and Jerry Humphries work in the friar's quarters. Enlarge image
TAS crews carefully expose features within the 18th-century friar's quarters, including a two-stepped altar and red-plaster walls. Enlarge image