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Behind the Scenes of a TAS Field School

By Johnney Pollan

The event known as a Texas Archeological Society (TAS) summer field school is far more than just a gathering of archeological enthusiasts who are capable of digging square holes under the supervision of professional archeologists.  The event is the renewing of friendships, the acquisition of archeological tidbits about the site(s) being studied and the people who lived there.  The field school is a chance to visit different parts of Texas and study its various environmental settings and learn about the early people who exploited the resources in these areas.

The local arrangements committee (LAC) is made up of TAS members who support the efforts at the site, work closely with the Principal Investigator (PI) and the TAS field school committee, and make the field school fun for the participants.  This group focuses on selecting and preparing the campsite, the hiring of cooks, seeking out local donations from business and individuals, and acquiring speakers and programs for afternoon and evening presentations.  These individuals do the menial tasks that keep the field school moving during the eight days of the event.  They work with the precision of a military campaign that has been in the planning stages for maybe a year or more and is culminating in the first morning.

The LAC starts work about 5:30 A.M. each morning and rouse the participants from their slumber by playing musical selections such as the Aggie War Hymn, Gene Autrey's Back in the Saddle Again, something more classical such as the Ride of the Valkaries, or simply honking car horns.  Depending upon the size of the event one hundred to maybe five hundred people will rise, get dressed and move themselves to the serving lines where cooks dish out breakfast to those bearing the correct ticket.  At 7:00 A.M. this mass of human energy is collected and transported to the site where crews gather to begin the days' work.  The crew assignments are another task performed by a LAC member. With good planning, productive work is taking place by 9:00 A.M.  Special effort is taken to assure the education of children during the week.  They are given their own area of a site to dig. Day trips are scheduled for the purpose of enhancing their field-learning experiences with those focused upon the history and prehistory of the general area.

For the LAC, this is just the beginning.  Trash needs to be collected and taken to appropriate staging areas for storage and disposal.  Porta-potties need to be checked to be certain proper amenities exist and supplies adequate for the next day.  Showers are tested to be certain they are ready when the tired, hot, and exhausted troops return from the field.  Ice storage is also checked to be certain that sufficient amounts exists for the onslaught of participants when they recover from their ordeal and seek to re-supply their ice chests.  The Principal Investigator (PI), some members of the LAC, and TAS publicity personnel meet with local dignitaries and reporters to treat them to the day's results and fire up their enthusiasm for archeology.  Afternoon events are beginning and participants bring their folding chair to witness the scheduled presentation or demonstration.  Other participants are traveling to nearby sites of interests, finding AC in local restaurants/stores, or simply sitting in the shade with a cool one.  As the day progresses, supper is served; evening presentations made, new friendships created and others renewed.  By 11:00 P.M. the camp is quiet except for the distant singing from a group of energetic beings that obviously need less than six to seven hours of sleep.  The camp is secure and LAC members close their eyes and get some rest before the next days' events.

A successful field school is measured many different ways.  There is the revenue taken in from the registrations and meals. Were there profits or did the TAS lose money?  Were the PI's objectives met during the field school or did more questions develop than were answered.  Were the participants' expectations met or did they feel that their hard work was a bust?  Did environmental disasters such as rain, heat, and wind take their toll on the people?  Was the archeological impact on the local area positive and the residents of the area invite TAS to return?  Lessons learned are passed to next years' LAC for fine-tuning so that future generations can experience the essence of TAS in the field.

(Editor's Note: Pollan was "Camp Boss" at the 1994 and 1995 TAS field schools at Lake Jackson Plantation in Brazoria County.  Learn more about the field school and results of investigations led by Dr. Joan Few on Texas Beyond History.

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