Archaeological Investigations at the Christopher Columbus Italian Society Property and Columbus Park: 41BX1968, the Possible First Site of Mission San Antonio de Valero




Nichols, Kristi M.

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Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio


In May of 2013, the Center for Archaeological Research of The University of Texas at San Antonio was contracted by the San Antonio Conservation Society (SACS) to explore the Spanish Colonial archaeological deposits and a feature that were recently identified in a lot owned by the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and next to the San Francesco di Paola Church in north-central San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas. Based on a number of historical descriptions, the deposits were thought to possibly be associated with the first location of Mission San Antonio de Valero that was established in 1718. Thirty-one shovel tests were excavated in Columbus Park and on property owned by the Christopher Columbus Italian Society near the church. In addition, three test units were excavated at a location downhill from the church on property owned by the Christopher Columbus Italian Society. The archaeological investigations were conducted under Texas Antiquities Permit No. 6534. Steve Tomka served as the Original Principal Investigator, and Kristi Miller Nichols served as Project Archaeologist. The Permit is currently held by Dr. Raymond Mauldin. Surface collection in the open field and in the vicinity of the church produced a small quantity of Spanish Colonial Period material, including wrought iron nails, a majolica ceramic fragment, a trade bead, and melted lead. Shovel tests revealed that the upper 60 cm of soil in the park contains mostly modern and some early twentieth-century materials. Investigations found no evidence of Mission San Antonio de Valero within Columbus Park. Test unit excavations in the Christopher Columbus Italian Society’s property produced fragments of majolica ceramics affiliated with the Spanish Colonial Period and lead-glazed Galera wares of probable Colonial age. While a large proportion of the cultural materials recovered from surface and the shovel tests does consist of nineteenth- and twentieth-century materials, the remainder includes a variety of Spanish Colonial artifacts such as tin- and lead-glazed ceramics, bone-tempered sherds, a trade bead, and fragments of wrought iron nails. It is likely that the materials have been re-deposited from the upper portion of the landform where the church and hall had been erected in the late 1920s. In addition, the western portion of the tract had been graded prior to the construction of a paved parking lot, and this further disturbed any buried cultural deposits. The cultural material that is affiliated with the Spanish Colonial Period is overwhelmed by artifacts dated to later periods. This is somewhat expected given the short-lived history of Mission San Antonio de Valero at its first location. Based on archival descriptions, this area matches at least one distance given for the location of the mission in relation to the presidio and villa that are believed to have been located near modern-day San Pedro Park. While it is possible that this location is the first site of Mission San Antonio de Valero, additional archaeological investigations will be required to verify that possibility. It is necessary to obtain larger samples of Colonial materials and architectural evidence that would be consistent with the structures and features likely associated with the site during the first few months of its occupation. Unfortunately, the areas that could hold such artifacts and features are likely to be under the footprint of the church proper and under a nearby asphalted parking lot. It is recommended that if and when the asphalted parking lot is redeveloped and the asphalt removed, archaeological investigations be carried out in the area to determine if any Spanish Colonial Period materials are present. It is the CAR’s understanding that a significant amount of fill was introduced to the area to level it prior to the construction of the parking lot. The fill was borrowed from the grassy field where the testing investigations took place. Furthermore, archaeological investigations are recommended if any future opportunities arise to investigate the crest of the hill, particularly under the footprint of the church and hall.



archaeological investigation, archaeology, Texas archaeology, archaeological surveying, excavations, Bexar County, San Antonio