By Bradford M. Jones, THC Curatorial Facility Certification Program Coordinator
“So, what happened to those archeological artifacts?”
It’s a question the Texas Historical Commission’s Curatorial Facility Certification Program (CFCP) receives from museum staff and interested citizens after an archeology project in their community. The CFCP, part of the THC’s Archeology Division (AD), helps protect these artifacts by identifying and recognizing Texas institutions that demonstrate responsible collections management.
According to AD staff, the state’s explosive population growth over the past two decades prompted increased development-related archeological surveys and excavations. Combined with the proliferation of media resources, this results in raised awareness of local archeological projects among state and city officials, county historical commissions, museum curators, and members of the public.
Most people don’t know what happens to the artifacts after learning about them via articles and photos, or speaking with archeologists at a public or private gathering. Many who call the CFCP assume the items went to a museum, or disappeared into a warehouse like the one in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” While the callers are right, to correct Indiana Jones’ maxim, artifacts collected from state lands do not simply belong in a museum, they belong in a certified curatorial facility.
Why certified? Archeological artifacts are non-renewable resources. Once removed from the ground or the water, they run the risk of deterioration, loss, or theft if not properly conserved, documented, and stored in a secure and stable environment. By placing these collections in certified facilities, they are available for future studies and exhibits.
“In the 1990s, Texas archeologists recognized there was a looming curation crisis for state collections,” explains Pat Mercado-Allinger, director of the THC’s Archeology Division. “We noticed there was occasionally a lack of oversight once the items were transferred for curation, especially when outdated locations didn’t offer ideal conditions.”
This concern was the genesis of the CFCP. Under the leadership of former THC Commissioner Dr. Eileen Johnson, the agency developed the nation’s first certification program for facilities to house archeological collections from state lands and establish an annual reporting process for the collections. This certification process was formally adopted by the THC in 2003; since then, artifacts and records from permitted archeological projects in Texas are required to be housed only in museums and curatorial repositories that have been certified by the agency. To achieve certification, each facility must have the necessary policies, procedures, and infrastructure to safely preserve and make these collections accessible in perpetuity.
In 2005, the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History became the first facility to apply for and receive CFCP certification. Already the state’s designated repository for maritime artifacts, the museum holds collections derived from two of Texas’ most significant wrecks: the 1554 shipwrecks and La Belle. The 1554 wreck collections are from three Spanish plate ships that wrecked off the coast of South Padre Island. Their salvage in the 1960s led to the creation of the Texas Antiquities Code to protect archeological resources in state lands and waters. La Belle, the last of French explorer La Salle’s ships, wrecked in Matagorda Bay in 1686; the hull and nearly 2 million artifacts were excavated by the THC in the 1990s.
With millions of artifacts curated at 16 certified facilities (see Holding Artifacts below), their role as the physical repositories is critical to the survival of the collections and ensuring their research potential. Similarly essential is their commitment to public engagement. By taking on the responsibility of holding state-associated archeological collections, museum staffers also agree to assist the THC in making items available for research and to promote Texas’ archeological heritage by loaning artifacts to eligible institutions for public interpretation. Today, artifacts loaned from certified curatorial facilities are displayed in museums around the state and across the nation. Many of these collections are the basis of student theses and dissertations.
Since its inception, the CFCP has served as an important program for the preservation of Texas’ archeological heritage and a unique model for administering such a vast and precious resource. The current 16 facilities are doing an admirable job, but with more than 70,000 (and growing) recorded archeological sites across the state—and over 8,000 archeological permits issued since the adoption of the Antiquities Code—the CFCP is looking to work with existing and new museums interested in pursuing certification.
“Only by working closely with curatorial facilities can we guarantee the long-term survival and availability of our archeological heritage for future research and public interpretation,” Mercado-Allinger says.
For more information about the program, please visit the THC's CFCP page or call 512-463-6096.
Texas boasts 16 certified curatorial facilities across the state. The Texas Archeological Research Lab alone holds over 50 million artifacts dating to the earliest days of archeology in Texas. Together these facilities are an irreplaceable resource for Texas’ archeological history.
Five of them are specialized archeological curation facilities:
• Stephen F. Austin State University’s Anthropology and Archaeology Lab
• Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Archeology Laboratory
• Texas State University’s Center for Archaeological Studies
• University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Archeological Research Laboratory
• University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Archaeological Research
Most the certified facilities are regional museums that house archeological collections telling local histories or focusing on specific historical topics. Many of these museums are architectural treasures in and of themselves, and all showcase the richness and depth of Texas’ history and archeology.
• Brazoria County Historical Museum, Angleton
• Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, Corpus Christi
• Fort Bend County Historical Museum, Richmond
• Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock
• Museum of the Coastal Bend, Victoria
• Sam Houston Memorial Museum, Huntsville
Finally, the THC operates three certified facilities housing collections from the agency’s Historic
• Center for Artifact Research, Austin
• National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg
• Sam Rayburn House Museum, Bonham
This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of The Medallion.