History Students Help Decipher Archaeological Evidence of Native Americans

Published: June 23, 2016

History Students Help Decipher Archaeological Evidence of Native Americans

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – One of the best ways to experience history is to see it up close and personal. Two Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi history students, Abbey Lane and Skylar Schaeffer, are able to do just that thanks to an archaeology internship with Coastal Environments Inc.

“We needed very detailed, meticulous people to do this work,” said Sean Nash, Project Manager at Coastal Environments Inc. (CEI), a cultural resource management firm based in Baton Rouge. “And that’s exactly who we asked for from the university.”

The process begins at the dig site in which various field techniques are used during excavations.  One technique used is known as flotation, or using water to process soil or feature fill to recover tiny artifacts. Large bags of soil samples taken during excavations are sent to the CEI Corpus Christi office.  There the soil is processed through the flotation tank and any artifacts recovered are processed and bagged.  Then the interns, under the direction of Heather Perez, lab director and TAMU-CC alumnae, examine the contents, further refining the contents for cataloging.  The artifacts will next be sent to various expert analysts for the final report.

“This is critical work, because this is the point where we take the measurement of items and get the raw data on which we will base all of our analysis and conclusions,” said Nash. “Therefore, this work has to be done extremely carefully, because it will help us to understand what we found precisely.”

Although the work is very meticulous and can be tedious at times, Lane and Schaeffer believe it is both interesting and valuable.

“When I’m examining artifacts, it makes me think,” said Lane. “I imagine what was going on with these dart points, and I wonder what will happen thousands of years from now when students examine our modern cell phones. It’s interesting because one day cell phones will be antiques—it’s the same principle with these dart points.”

Dr. Jen Brown, Assistant Professor of Environmental History at TAMU-CC, coordinated the internship.

“Our students take a wide range of courses to provide them with breadth of historical knowledge,” she said. “Internships like this help them pull all their courses together and give them a chance to see the valid contributions history majors are making in our society.”

The artifacts examined by Lane and Schaeffer came from the site of a future highway near Cypress Creek, outside Houston. The artifacts and soil samples represented different times throughout history from Paleo-Indian Period (12,000 – 7,000 B.C.) to European Contact. The interns were tasked with analyzing and cataloging the various artifacts brought from the site.

“This internship is different from others I have done,” said Schaeffer. “It is more detailed because we are dealing with very tiny objects. It’s not very exciting to talk about because it’s hard to convey what goes into it all, but it is exciting to actually do the work because it’s interesting when we find something out of the ordinary or something unique.”

Lane said the most fascinating thing she learned was the process the Indians used to make their darts, noting how clearly she could see how they were shaved and created, so much so she could duplicate their process.

“After examining their pottery and how they created them, we learned they are not much different than how we make pottery today,” said Lane. “It makes you question how far have we really come.”

Schaeffer hopes to continue her education by attending graduate school for museum studies in hopes of one day becoming a museum curator. Lane plans to be a field archeologist, something she has wanted to be since she was 12 years old.

Nash said CEI recognizes the importance of building relationships with local academic institutions. He believes both students and institutions benefit from partnerships like this.

“Students are provided with experience and CEI is provided with individuals who are able to do the detailed and meticulous work that this job requires,” he said.