The massive collection of documents that today constitutes TARL's Site Records saw its beginnings around 1919 in a set of questionnaires directed to Texas public school teachers by Professor James E. Pearce, founder of the Department of Anthropology at UT Austin. Pearce wanted basic information about the types and distributions of archeological sites across the state. His questionnaires are some of the oldest primary documents in the TARL archives. Since that time, literally hundreds of different kinds of site records have made their way to TARL, everything from newspaper clippings to letters to today's official state site recording form. These primary documents are extremely valuable in scientific terms because many of them are the only existing record of archeological sites which have been destroyed by the many forces and faces of "progress," natural erosion, and purposeful destruction.
Today TARL houses records from over 60,000 individual sites organized by county and trinomial number and stored in filing cabinets within the new Records Room. In order to safeguard site location (to protect private property from trespass and sites from vandalism and plunder), the site records at TARL are accessible only to legitimate archeological researchers. Basic site data are now available through the Internet to qualified researchers via the Texas Archeological Sites Atlas. The site records at TARL include the primary documents (usually called "site forms") upon which the Atlas data is based as well as a variety of other kinds of documents including field notes, photographic logs, drawings, analysis notes, radiocarbon data forms, and artifact inventories, among many others.
The Smithsonian Trinomial system allows each officially recorded archeological site to be referenced with a single three-part (state-county-site) alpha-numeric designation. For example, 41BX228 is the 228th archeological site officially recorded in Bexar County, Texas (Texas being the 41st state at the time the system was devised). Many sites are also given names (e.g., the Panther Springs Creek site is 41BX228). Several cross-referenced files are maintained to keep track of site names and link older numbering systems and other designations to the trinomial designations.
Site and project records from some of the larger Cultural Resource Management (CRM) projects (contracted research done because of Federal and State laws), such as those often associated with the development of a major reservoir, are kept as a unit in archival-box shelving within the Records Room.
Map files include permanent copies of USGS 7.5' topographic maps on which site locations are plotted and map archives. Map archives consist of large, flat-filed archeological research documents including field and finished site maps, plan maps, profile drawings, project area maps, aerial photographs, and rock art tracings which are housed in special map cabinets that are organized by project or site.