The collections housed at CAR represent enormous research potential, educational value, and historical significance.

The Collections

Since it was founded in 1974, the Center for Archaeological Research (CAR) at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has amassed a material culture collection of over 5,000 boxes representing more than 1000 accessions from over 530 archaeological sites distributed throughout South Texas. These collections are the products of a combination of state-and federally-permitted projects conducted by CAR research scientists, faculty of the Department of Anthropology, and contract firms from throughout the state and include donations of archaeological collections to the University.

These prehistoric and historic materials fall into three thematic groups: (1) Greater South Texas Prehistoric Collections; (2) Spanish Colonial Heritage Collections; and (3) Historic San Antonio Collections. Each of these groups consists of a mix of state- and federally-controlled Held-In-Trust and UTSA-owned collections.

For a complete listing of sites with collections at CAR, visit Collections by County. Researchers who are interested in accessing collections curated at CAR should contact the Center at 210/458-4378 or send an email to:

The Greater South Texas Prehistoric Collections

This group of collections represents one of the most comprehensive South Texas holdings in the state, consisting of roughly 15 million artifacts from more than 400 sites distributed throughout 38 counties. It includes chipped stone tools and manufacture debris, ground stone implements, ceramics, perishable items, paleo-environmental samples (snails, mussel shells and macrobotanical samples), and faunal remains which are indicative of past environments and the diet of prehistoric inhabitants of the area.

These collections contain a unique record of the occupation of the region bordering the Rio Grande along the United States and Mexico border, documenting hunter-gatherer adaptations to changing climatic conditions and resources from the earliest Paleoindian (11,000-8000 B.P.) occupations, through the development of Middle Archaic (4500-2800 B.P.) ranking among hunter-gatherer societies (Loma Sandia Collection), and the spread of Late Prehistoric (1250-450 B.P.) bison-hunting traditions beyond the Central Plains. The Greater South Texas Prehistoric Collections derive from survey, testing, and data recovery projects and document decades of archaeological research in South Texas conducted during academic research and cultural resource management projects.

While some of these archaeological collections have been thoroughly analyzed and reported, many have had only cursory analysis and reporting due primarily to lack of funding. The scientific potential of these extensive collections is tremendous and, studies driven by systematic research designs and well defined methodologies would add significantly to our knowledge of the prehistory and history of the area. We encourage the use of these collections by researchers and below highlight just a few of the research directions warranting future study.

The thousands of chipped stone tools would serve to document changes in hunter-gatherer technological organization (Binford 1979; Kuhn 1994; Shott 1986), raw material procurement and trade (Andrefsky 1994; Bamforth 1990), territoriality as well as mobility patterns (Kelly 1992). The extensive collections of faunal remains from many sites throughout South Texas can be studied to discern inter-regional similarities and differences in diet and diachronic changes in subsistence practices (Dering 2001). They can also be employed as proxy indicators of climatic conditions (Robinson 1979). The rich collections of dart and arrow points have played a key role in the development of culture-historical sequences in the state (Prewitt 1981). In addition, they represent key data types needed for the investigation of changes in hunter-gather projectile point and hunting technology (Christenson 1997; Churchill 1993; Nelson 1997) and the study of style (Close 1987; Weissner 1983). They are useful in studying the shift from atlatl-propelled darts to the use of the bow and arrow sometime around 1500-1800 years ago (Nassaney and Pyle 1999; Patterson 1985). Finally, the large number of soil samples, macrobotanical remains and charred organic samples that have never been subjected to specialized analyses can provide data for the investigation of subsistence practices (i.e., Dering 2001), climatic reconstructions (Robinson 1979), and can contribute to more precise dating of archaeological components excavated in the 1960s and 70s when radiocarbon dating was not systematically performed (Prewitt 1985).

The Spanish Colonial Heritage Collections

The beginnings of San Antonio can be traced to the founding of the Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) on May 1, 1718. By 1735, four other missions and several mission ranches were established or relocated to the San Antonio River basin. The Spanish Colonial Heritage Collections curated at CAR consist of over 1.5 million pieces of material culture from seven Colonial Period archaeological sites throughout south Texas.

These collections span the time period from one of the earliest established missions in the state (Mission San Antonio de Valero; 1718) to the last mission (Mission Nuestra Señora del Refugio; 1793-1830) built in Texas. They reflect the changing conditions and dynamics of Spanish frontier settlement in the Americas over a period of more than 100 years, bridging the time gap between the Spanish settlement of the southeast and western U.S. The missions of Texas, rich in written documentation and even richer in material culture, provide a critical opportunity to investigate frontier dynamics and the applicability of competing and complementary explanatory models (insular vs cosmopolitan [Steffen 1980]; competitive exclusion, environmental diversity, progressive segregation, and systematization [Lewis 1984]; core and periphery [Wallerstein 1974, 1980]). Identity formation and culture change represent two key aspects of anthropological research to which these diverse collections can contribute.

As in the missions of the southeastern U.S. and California, the missionization of hunter-gatherer and agriculturalist groups resulted in changes in settlement patterns, technology, subsistence and social organization of traditional groups (Deagan 1988; Jackson and Castillo 1995). However, the degree of change in the life of native groups varied between the the Texas missions and those in the southeastern U.S. and California due to their prior dependence on steady pre-existing food supplies (i.e., native cultigens or marine resources), the reliability of supplies from Mexico and the pre-existing social and religious fabric of each group. A fuller understanding of how and why processes of culture change impacted these aspects of traditional society differently and at different rates over time can be understood only through extended studies of the rich material culture in collections at CAR. Research into identity formation and culture change, as reflected in the Texas mission collections, can also make significant methodological contributions. Anthropologists and archaeologists have devised a number of methods to measure the types and direction of culture change (Deetz 1963; White 1975; South 1977; Brain 1979; Brown 1979; Hoover and Costello 1985; Farnsworth 1986; 1989; 1992; Smith 1987). While these methods have been developed primarily for measuring the pace of change in California missions and among southeastern Indian groups, none have been applied to Texas missions. It is not clear whether these measures are accurate reflections of culture change. The extensive written records of the San Antonio missions would provide an important counterbalance to the picture that emerges from the archaeological record.

The Historic San Antonio Collections

During the early to mid-18th century, two principal population clusters were present in San Antonio: one around Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), and the other on the west side of the San Antonio River in proximity to San Fernando Cathedral. Many of the soldiers and their families that were permanently reassigned to Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1802 settled just south of the Mission in a block that came to be called La Villita—“The Little Town”. By this time, Mission San Antonio de Valero had been fully secularized and the slow transformation from a mission town to an urban center had been set in motion. The Center’s collections document San Antonio’s history from these modest beginnings at La Villita through the European Colonization Period (1800–1836), the Republic of Texas Period (1836–1846), the Lone Star State Period (1846–1861), and the Victorian Texas Period (1874–1901).

Large-scale urban archaeology projects in parts of downtown San Antonio, such as the excavations associated with the construction of Rivercenter Mall (Las Tiendas; approximately one million items), the Alamodome investigations (750,000 pieces dating from 1850 to the present), and the Arcienega Street Investigations (25,000 items; Katz 1978), have allowed archaeologists the opportunity to investigate numerous family residences in neighborhoods dating to 1850 and later. For instance, during the eight-month Rivercenter Mall project, CAR scientists excavated ten family properties and recovered over one million artifacts dating from 1865 to the present (Fox and Renner 1999). Other urban archaeology projects such as the excavations associated with the construction of the Alamodome have produced a rich and diverse collection of material culture from a 16-block area in downtown San Antonio (Fox et al. 1997). These excavations lasted three years and documented in great detail the history of a neighborhood in transition between 1850 and 1950.

The historic archaeological collections housed at the Center document San Antonio’s continuous occupation since the mid-19th century in rich detail. The history of San Antonio as a multi-cultural urban center from its earliest days of small neighborhoods through its growth around secularized missions, to the rise of the first commercial enterprises and the expansion of these neighborhoods from the core of the old town into peripheral areas, is evident in these collections. The arrival of German, Swedish, Polish, and Hungarian settlers and their integration into the economic and social spheres of San Antonio (Everett 1975) is also evident. The large collections of artifacts from numerous culturally diverse neighborhoods can be used to make significant contributions to key aspects of historic archaeology, including the study of ethnicity, either from the perspective of boundary maintenance (e.g. Spicer 1971, 1972) or assimilation (e.g. Deagan 1973; Shenk and Teague 1975). The development of methodological tools to identify distinct ethnic groups within the archaeological record (e.g. Baker 1980; Evans 1980; Greenwood 1980; Kelly and Kelly 1980; Lightfoot et al. 1998) would be a valuable scientific tool. The large quantities of animal remains and consumer goods recovered from sites dating from the late 19th to the early 20th century from throughout different historic neighborhoods also constitutes primary data for the study of consumer behavior (Carr and Walsh 1980; Singer 1987; Schulz and Gust 1983; Spencer-Wood 1987), both from a synchronic (documenting how groups with different ethnic affiliations and economic positions participated in the local and national economy) and diachronic perspective (gauging how the degree and participation avenues changed over time).

Relationships to Other Collections

Large collections of prehistoric and historic material culture exist in other curation facilities throughout the state, such as at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin and the Museum of Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Several factors make the Center’s holdings unique yet complementary to those of other facilities in the state. First, the Center has been the primary facility used by the Texas Historical Commission and other state, county, and local agencies for the curation of archaeological collections from the greater South Texas region.

Second, because of the geographic position of South Texas and the geopolitical role of the region and the state, the Center’s collections have unique research potential not shared by any other research collections in the state. For instance, the Center’s Greater South Texas Prehistoric Collections document the deeply rooted relationships between South Texas and northern Mexico that began as early as 6000 years ago and flourished during the historic period and is part of everyday life today. These relationships have been identified by many scholars including Taylor (1966) and MacNeish (1958) but have been poorly studied, particularly by archaeologists from Mexico (with some important exceptions Ramírez 2007 and Valadez 1999). As such, the Center’s South Texas Collections remain a critical resource for scholars in both the United States and Mexico. In addition, South Texas lies at the southern edge of the Plains bison-hunting tradition that spread from Canada through the Central Prairies and into South Texas. Because of its geographic setting, scholars working with South Texas collections have the opportunity to study the nature of bison hunting adaptations on the southern fringes of its geographic distribution.

Similarly, collections from four local missions (Mission Concepción [41BX12]; Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo [41BX3]; Mission San Juan Capistrano [41BX5]; and Mission San Francisco de Espada [41BX4], combined with two coastal plains missions (Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario [41GD2] and Mission Nuestra Señora del Refugio [41RF1] and a nearby ranch (Rancho de las Cabras [41WN30]), make the Center’s Spanish Colonial Heritage Collections one of the most extensive in the State. The Center’s collections complement the Spanish Colonial collections found in Florida, the greater Southeast, the Southwest, and California and serve as a critical link in reconstructing and documenting the nation’s Spanish Colonial heritage. In addition, because Spanish and French Colonial intentions clashed in Texas, South Texas was in a unique position to bear witness to the influence of international geo-political forces upon colonial practices.

Finally, no other collection of material culture in the state more comprehensively reflects the genesis of a contemporary vibrant urban center composed of a multi-cultural tapestry from nearly a dozen European nations built on a colonial foundation. The collections document several key stages in the history of the state and the nation, including the Republic of Texas (1836-1846) and the Lone Star State periods (1846-1861).