Scholars Speak: Working With Artifacts and Discovering the Future

This post is part of our blog series “Scholars Speak,” which features writing from our 2023 cohort of Preservation Scholars. Click the link to learn more about this donor-funded program that aims to increase the diversity of voices in the Texas historical narrative by placing students from underrepresented cultural and ethnic backgrounds in paid, 10-week long summer internship positions at the Texas Historical Commission.

Scholars Speak: Working With Artifacts and Discovering the Future

by Gilbert Martinez

I have very much enjoyed working as the State Archeology Programs Intern with the Archeology Division of the Texas Historical Commission. Part of my project has been organizing the Old Socorro Ceramics. The Old Socorro Ceramic collection is an unorganized ceramic collection from the Old Socorro Mission in El Paso, Texas. As the name suggests, the site was once a mission during the early times of Native Americans and Spanish colonization in Texas. The mission housed both Native Americans and Spanish refugees who fled New Mexico in a time of revolt in 1680 and named the mission after the place where they had lived before. The collection has all sorts of ceramics, including vases, bowls, and other pottery. There are also different types of ceramics, classified by how they were heated or created, including types such as brownware, smudegeware, redware, whitewash, etc.

A challenging yet intriguing aspect of this entire collection is that when excavated, the original excavator jotted down numbers and inventoried some of the collection but did not explain what the numbers meant. Therefore, there is a constant mystery to the collection. Archeology division director Brad Jones and I have worked to uncover the meaning of the original excavator’s numbers, but so far have no clue what the they mean.

The most rewarding part of this project is when I am able to connect a large amount of artifact pieces to one another, fitting them together to recreate their original form. Another interesting aspect is finding new types of ceramics. Brad thinks he bores me to death because working with artifacts can be quite tedious, and while that may be the case on some days, the experience of working with this collection will stick with me for the future. I say this because not only has this project opened my eyes to the possibility of pursuing archeology as a career, but it has given me valuable experience for future employment as well.