Digging up the Past

Recently there have been several exciting archaeological discoveries that have given us additional clues to some of San Antonio’s most historic sites. Most notably, was the discovery of the first probable location of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, known to most San Antonians as simply The Alamo. The artifacts from these excavations reveal new insights into our rich heritage and remind us that the pathway to our past is quite literally right beneath our feet.

mission_concept© 1986, Texas Highways

The church of San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, would have looked something like this had it been completed according to plan.

In February of 2013, Kay Hindes, City Archaeologist, located artifacts on the site of the Christopher Columbus Italian Society Headquarters.  Since then extensive archaeological investigations and archival research has been conducted to support that the site is the probable first and founding site of Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). In 1718 the mission, villa, and presidio were the founding triad of the modern city of San Antonio.

The mission of San Antonio de Valero was located at this first probable site for about 12 months before it was moved to a second location, thought to be in the area of present day La Villita, by the Marquis de San Miguel de Aguayo. The third and final location is where you will find it located today in Alamo Plaza.

Map

Map of San Antonio missions and presidio in 1764 with San Antonio River at top and Medina River on right.

With the official designation of the San Antonio Missions as a World Hertiage site this year, the discovery of the probable first site of the original Mission San Antonio de Valero cannot be understated! As San Antonio’s tricentennial approaches, in 2018, this discovery of the earliest site of one of our most iconic historic landmarks is a significant contribution to our understanding of one of the earliest settlements from Spain’s exploraton of the Northern Frontier.

Presidio San Antonio de Bexar

pdamen2

pdamen

In 2013, the City of San Antonio undertook archaeological investigations, overseen by OHP, at the Plaza de Armas buildings located on the west side of Military Plaza.  The work was conducted in conjunction with the renovation of the Plaza de Armas buildings for city offices to house the Culture and Creative Development Office and the Government and Public Affairs Office.

Aguayo Map

Aguayo Map of San Antonio, 1730.

The site is the location of the 1722 Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, originally founded by Martin de Alarcon in 1718 on the San Pedro Creek in the area of modern day San Pedro Park. In 1722, Governor Aguayo moved the presidio downstream to the location where the current day buildings front along Military Plaza. Today, the Spanish Governor’s Palace, the original “Casa de Capitan” of the presidio is the last remaining architectural vestige of the presidio.

Work was performed locally by the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, under contract with the city. Their investigations revealed extensive sheet midden deposits and trash pit features preserved under the concrete floors of the 19th century buildings. Spanish Colonial artifacts found included majolicas (tin enameled ceramic wares), lead glazed wares, bone tempered Native American ceramics, known as Goliad ware, a vesicular basalt mano (grinding stone) fragment, unglazed ceramics, burnished red ware, metal, glass and lithics.

Artifacts such as Puebla Polychrome ceramics and San Luis Polychrome ceramics, dating to the original 1722 establishment of the presidio, were found, as well as, later 18th and 19th century artifacts.  Extensive archival research was also conducted on the site and includes primary source documents obtained from the Archivo General de las Indias, in Sevilla, Spain.

OHP’s own, Kay Hindes, explains “We’re going to celebrate our 300th anniversary in 2018, and because we’re such an old city, almost any place you put a shovel in the ground downtown, you’re likely to hit something,”. With that in mind, let’s all look forward to what part of San Antonio’s heritage will be dug up next!

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