If you’re ever in the DFW metroplex and find yourself with a hankering for learning about — or even doing — some archeology, you’re in luck. Not only do we have some excellent museums you can visit to learn about the culture history of the region, we also have the venerable Dallas Archeological Society (DAS) to help you out. Most of the members of the DAS are talented amateurs, but there are professional archeologists among their ranks, too, including a few academics and at least one fellow who owns his own archeological consulting company. If you ever visit with them, you’ll find yourself in good, enjoyable company. I speak from experience, I do.
The DAS dates from 1936, and describes itself as “a nonprofit membership organization serving the needs of professionals and interested avocationals in the field of archeology.” The term “avocational” is one we used to refer to amateurs for whom archeology is more than a hobby; it’s more of a passion, something they spend most of their spare time doing. The DAS is packed with them, and it happens to be one of the oldest, biggest, and most active local archeological societies in the state of Texas. There was a time when it was the biggest and most active archeological society in Texas, but as a quick look at their website will make clear, they’re currently undergoing a period of rebuilding. Back when I was doing archeology professionally, many of the most active members were of retirement age, so it’s possible that they simply slowed down and finally retired completely. Despite its recent decline, the society remains a vibrant and well-respected entity in the field of Texas archeology, and I can recall liaising with their membership sometimes when we did local work. A couple of their members even worked for us off and on. After all, they were the guys who knew where all the local skeletons were buried — often quite literally. I’ve always respected the DAS members I’ve interacted with.
DAS meetings are held monthly, and are generally open to the public. They take place on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU), usually on the third Thursday of the month at 8 PM in Rm. 153 of Heroy Hall. Generally there’s a guest speaker who talks about some aspect of the field. You’ll need to check their website for more details, so you can find out the next meeting date. Beware — there are no meetings from June to August! That’s prime fieldwork season, so the members are probably out digging up loot.
Speaking of fieldwork, DAS members tend to keep it going all year long, prime-time or not. For example, they’re planning to dig a site near Hamilton, TX sometime in January. While I can’t be sure if they welcome volunteer non-member help on these digs, it never hurts to ask; they generally welcome people willing to do honor the standard archeological code of ethics, which I talked about in a roundabout way here. Doing some fieldwork will give you a chance to get your hands dirty and learn a little more about the realities of the field, if you’re not already experienced. Even if you are, it can be fun to get out there and dig some square holes.
The members of the DAS report their work in their own professional journal, a semi-annual publication called The Record (published since 1939), and send their membership a monthly newsletter called In Situ (a technical term for something found in the place it was originally deposited). I’ve seen both (and occasionally used them in my own research), and I can report that they’re quite professionally done. One side note: like the Texas Archeological Society (our statewide organization), in its early days the SAS also dabbled in the allied field of paleontology. I don’t know if they still do (I’ll admit to not seeing issues of The Record in years), but I do know that they’ve excavated bison and mammoth burials in the past. This is not unusual in archeological circles, since both are occasionally associated with human artifacts. The Paleo-Indians hunted mammoths until they became extinct (possibly because of that hunting, but probably not), and they and their descendants hunted bison, too, when they could get them. Otherwise it was deer, rabbit, squirrels, and turtles if they wanted meat. Yep. Lots of turtle soup. A few mussels too, if they lived near a river.
But I could go on for hours about prehistoric Texas, and we were talking about the DAS, we’re we? Well, let’s just say the DAS has contributed significantly to our understanding of prehistoric culture in the north Texas region. And in addition to their own good work and events, the DAS also keeps a pulse on the archeological goings-on in the area. For example, last time I checked out their site I learned (too late, alas) about an archeology fair held in Farmer’s Branch on October 13, 2007, and they regularly post notices about upcoming lectures, especially those offered by the DFW branch of the Archaeological Institute of America, which hosts its lectures for free at SMU and similar lofty venues.
So there you are. When you’re planning your Dallas vacation, take a look at the DAS site and see what’s going on; you might be able to indulge your archeological sweet tooth for a little bit of nothing. And note that I wrote “archeological.” While the variation with a second “a” is acceptable (i.e., “archaeological”), the DAS, like most volunteer and contract archeological organizations, dropped the extra “a” a long time ago; it’s a minor schism thing between academic and practical archeology, and if you’ve got a sharp eye, you can tell which side of the argument I fall on. Anyway, you should remember that if you ever do a web each for them: just one “a,” baby.