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Would a Rock by Any Other Name… Still be a Rock?


One of the archeologists at the Gault Site explains carvings found in the sandstone.

This past weekend I attended a three day class sponsored by the Texas Archeology Society (TAS) ( I wanted to learn more about archeology and maybe even get a few pointers on how to identify sites, and what to do with them once I did identify them. The academy was held in Belton, TX, a pretty little town with a river running just west of the Main Street.

Several archeologists taught a class of about 60 how to probe, map, and survey a site. I was highly amused by the many men at the academy (at least those in my group) who almost had heart attacks when mapping – they were so set on having everything measured precisely to the exact millimeter that we never did get much accomplished. I am not the most detailed person in the world, and when I said that it probably isn’t going to hurt to be a little off, after all it’s just holes we’ll be digging- I think I probably set their hair on fire.

On Sunday, we got to put our newly found skills to the test at the Gault Site where all sorts of items from the Clovis culture who inhabited central Texas about 12,000 years ago have been excavated. We’re talking arrow heads and inscribed rock and spear points and the like. At least I think that’s what we were talking about, although I never saw any fully formed artifact. Instead, as these were stone age sites we were probing and surveying, and this was very rocky terrain, everything started to look the same to me! So I ended up mapping random pebbles. Sometimes (and I’m ashamed to admit this), I just kind of ignored a few rocks. I don’t think I was the only one to do that, either, although I must have looked like I knew what I was doing when a woman took me aside and in a hushed voice asked me, “Can you tell the difference between a rock and an artifact?” I really, really, really wanted to say “Of course!” and receive the admiration that is due a serious student of the Archaic period, but I just ended up shrugging and shaking my head.

On the plus side, the weather was excellent. There was also a lot of food. The TAS catered breakfast and lunch, with free drinks all day. I realize that if there’s one thing archeologists don’t do, is starve.

I also got to spend Friday and Saturday night at a good friend’s house, which saved me hotel money. On Saturday night, because we’re so wild and crazy, we watched “Volver” with Penelope Cruz and directed by Pedro Almodovar. Excellent movie, by the way.

I haven’t really made up my mind yet if I want to attend any more academies. On the one hand, it’s very informative. On the other hand, it’s rock. I think I’d be a lot more fascinated by historical artifacts. There’s only so much enthusiasm one can catch for burnt rock middens with crushed mussels littering the pits, and unfortunately I didn’t catch much.

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