Stellar Stewards

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Archeology

By Pat Mercado-Allinger, State Archeologist and THC Archeology Division Director

How does an agency with only 10 full-time archeologists preserve and interpret the archeology of a state covering 266,807 square miles and 254 counties? As the state archeologist and director of the Archeology Division, I can tell you that the Texas Historical Commission (THC) relies on the efforts of volunteer members of the Texas Archeological Stewardship Network (TASN).

Established in 1983, the TASN is a directed volunteer program of the THC composed of avocational archeologists selected on the basis of their experience and talents. As we wrap up our celebration of National Volunteer Week, we salute the “stewards,” as they are commonly referred to, who live in communities across the state and are often the first point of contact for Texans with questions about archeological matters.

TASN member Doug Wilkens speaking to landowners at a site in the Texas Panhandle.TASN members assist with an array of activities, including the identification, monitoring, and preservation of archeological sites. Some stewards focus on important artifact collections, assisting local museums with documentation of collections in their holdings. We are fortunate that many of the stewards are willing and adept public speakers, capable of handling a range of public outreach endeavors.

Many of these volunteers are especially talented at landowner relations, offering neighborly information and advice about archeological sites on their property, how to avoid damaging important sites, and preservation options. Landowner assistance is a particularly important facet of TASN work, since more than 90 percent of Texas lands are privately owned.

TASN member Doug Wilkens speaking to landowners at a site in the Texas Panhandle.To gain a better understanding of Texas’ past, it is vital that we work in concert with property owners to identify and preserve important examples of our archeological heritage. This can only be done with voluntary cooperation from landowners. There have been numerous instances when a steward brought attention to an archeological site worthy of attention and protection. They also alert us to archeological issues that we might otherwise not have heard about.

To better quantify the accomplishments and contributions of TASN members, we ask them to submit semi-annual reports of their activities. The statistics are impressive! In 2012, they contributed 19,302.75 hours, which is roughly equivalent to 10 full-time employees. They also reported traveling 107,384.10 miles to accomplish their TASN duties, while paying for their own gas, meals, and lodging. They distributed nearly 14,500 materials about archeology, gave presentations that reached 9,600 people, and worked to protect nearly 600 sites across the state.

THC archeologists are keenly aware that we rely on the members of the TASN to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. And this  program has been so effective, it has received national recognition—in 2010, the THC received the Preserve America Steward award in recognition of the TASN program. We cannot thank our stewards enough!

We honor the many volunteers who not only support the work of the THC, but also make invaluable contributions to preserving local history and places. Join us in celebrating the volunteers that make a difference in your community. Learn more about National Volunteer Week and download a free 2013 Resource Guide.

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Comments

As a taxpayer, Steward, and lover of history I appreciate the TASN and the Texas Historical Commission. I am proud that Texas has this arrangement. Thanks for the recognition. Frank Condron, Jackson County.