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.