Five individuals in a field holding up one finger.

Day 1: Deep in the heart of Texas

I was very excited to get started on our first day of excavation. We had a decent breakfast at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, before hitting the road this morning. It took approximately 30 minutes to arrive at the site by car, so Jessica played some music to pump us up (wake us up and get us motivated) for a successful day of digging (e.g. “Eye of the Tiger”, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, and “Don’t Stop Believin’”). The site was located on a gorgeous, private cemetery at a family owned ranch, where numerous relatives of the property owners had been buried throughout the years. Unidentified migrants were also buried here — some in areas that were marked by posts, and others without a definite location.  When we arrived at the cemetery, it was only about 30 degrees with 20mph winds, making for a cold start to the day! Graduate students at Texas State University had devised a plan for dividing the site into four, 20×20 meter quadrants, which could then be further divided to maintain a uniform scale across all of the independently-working excavation teams. Texas State determined it would be best to record GPS points at every four-meter interval throughout the site to create subquadrants. We followed their pattern, and ended up with 25, 4×4 meter subquadrants within our Northeast quadrant of the cemetery. This turned out to be more work than Leann and I were expecting, but will be an important leaning experience.

Driving down country highway with blue skies.
Beautiful drive to the cemetery

Leann was an incredible mentor today. After Jordan, Jessica, Leann, Dr. Latham, and I finished setting up our grid , Leann and I began creating the surface map. We spent almost half of the day mapping because there were nearly two dozen headstones indicating family graves within our quadrant, two upright trees, and one fallen tree covered in shrubbery. After working together using the tape measures and a compass to document numerous measurements into a graph, we finally had all of the data needed to work on our completed maps back at the hotel.

Two team members mapping in headstones.
Leann and Sammi taking measurements to create a map

Overall, I believe that day 1 went very well. I am extremely grateful to have such an experienced, well-trained team by my side to help teach me to properly excavate a site of this magnitude. Everyone was so patient with me on my first day, and I felt we were able to accomplish a lot in a relatively short amount of time.


While Sammi and I were taking points for our surface map, Jess, Jordan, and Dr. Latham were probing the other subquadrants to feel for anomalies.  They found several areas of interest and began digging test pits to investigate further.  After digging a few test pits, they decided that it would be more efficient and systematic to dig test trenches throughout the subquadrants as opposed to continuing to dig test pits whenever an anomaly was felt.  There are numerous known burials in our quadrant that are aligned into rows, and those rows were used as guidelines for digging our trenches to locate any unidentified individuals.  With about 45 minutes left before sundown, Sammi and I finished taking measurements and joined the rest of the team digging trenches.

Jordan and Jessica digging a trench.
Jordan and Jessica digging a trench

At the end of the day, we created two small trenches about 50 cm deep and 5 meters long.  Tomorrow, we plan on extending these trenches to cover all of the open areas in our quadrant that felt anomalous when we probed, as well as deepening the trenches we dug today by about 10-15 more cm.  With this trench depth, we will be able to further probe down reaching a total depth of about six feet.  We plan to construct the trenches like we did in Falfurrias, systematically spaced so no potential areas of burial will go unchecked. I look forward to what tomorrow will bring and how much we will be able to accomplish!  I also look forward to some warmer weather….


Sunset over fields.
Sunset marking the end of day 1