Prehistory & History

Paleoindian Period

9,200 B.C. – 6,500 B.C.

Central Texas was an optimal habitat for early hunters and gatherers with its lush springs, abundant game, edible wild foods, and high quality chert for the manufacture of stone tools. The first known Native American occupations in Central Texas began before 9,200 B.C. in the terminal Pleistocene geological era at a time when now-extinct animals existed. The Paleoindian period continued through about 6,500 B.C. with the onset of the Holocene or recent geological era. Archaeologists believe that the earliest Paleoindian people gathered wild plants and hunted now-extinct big-game species, known as megafauna. Megafauna included such ice-age animals as the mammoth, mastodon, camel, horse and bison. Prehistoric hunters of these large mammals used stone tools that were chipped into points (called dart or spear points) and fastened to wooden shafts that were thrown using an atlatl (the Aztec word for spearthrower) and/or sometimes herded these large animals over a steep cliff.

Big-game hunting was probably supplemented by hunting and trapping of smaller animals and gathering of wild plants.

Tool kits associated with the Paleoindian period consisted of a variety of well-made stone tools that have been chipped into projectile points, knives, and scrapers. The Paleoindian period is typically divided into early and late sub-periods based on changes in projectile point styles. Archaeologists have given points in each subperiod type names as a means of reference and identity. The early sub-period is characterized by Clovis, Folsom, and Plainview points, while the late sub-period is marked by various points such as St. Mary’s Hall, Dalton, Wilson, Scottsbluff, Golondrina, and Angostura (Hester 1986, 1995; Turner et al. 2011).

Few well preserved Paleoindian sites have been recorded within Central Texas, partly because they are usually deeply buried and are difficult to locate and study.

When Paleoindian sites are found they are usually poorly preserved and located in upland areas near rivers and streams or deeply buried in stream terraces.

These sites are thought to represent temporary campsites or retooling stations left behind by highly mobile groups composed of several family units referred to as bands. Although Paleoindian sites in Central Texas are relatively rare, several have been identified within the San Antonio region including:

  • St. Mary’s Hall site (Hester 1978, 2013)
  • 41BX1396 on the San Antonio River (Ulrich 2012)
  • Richard Beene site along the Medina River (Thoms et al. 2005)
  • Chandler Site on Culebra Creek (Shafer and Hester 2005)
  • Pavo Real Site on Leon Creek(Collins et al. 2003; Henderson and Goode 1991)
Fruits And Pads Of Prickly Pear Cactus Plants

Both the fruits and pads of prickly pear cactus plants served as staples of Native American diets across the South Texas plains

Test Excavations At The Chandler Site In Northwest Bexar County

Overview of test excavations at the Chandler site in northwest Bexar County, a late Paleo-Indian site

St. Mary’s Hall Site (41BX229)

One of the earliest Paleoindian sites to be discovered in San Antonio was the St. Mary’s Hall Site (41BX229), which contained St. Mary’s Hall points that date from approximately 8150 B.C.-8010 B.C (Turner et al., 2011). The site also contained later Paleoindian points (Golondrina and Angostura), as well as evidence of Archaic and Late Prehistoric occupations.

Data from this site have provided evidence for the typical hunting and gathering diet in the form of animal bones and plant remains. Experts who have analyzed these remains can associate them with specific animal and plant species, and can also tell that the animals and plants were wild rather than domesticated (Hester, 1978).

St. Mary’s Hall point (10,490 B.P) From The Banks Of The San Antonio River

Pavo Real (41BX52)

Clearly the most important Paleoindian Site in San Antonio is Pavo Real (41BX52), which was excavated in conjunction with highway construction related to the widening of Loop 1604. This site was one of the first Early Paleoindian sites to be discovered in south-central Texas, and provides evidence of early stone tool manufacture, including both Clovis (ca. 9200 B.C.) and Folsom (9050 B.C. – 8150 B.C.) toolkits.

Archaeologists believe the site may have been used as a campsite where Paleoindian people could access local resources easily and where they manufactured tools to help in procuring and processing those resources (Collins et al. 2003; Texas Beyond History, 2013).

Site 41BX1396 at Brackenridge Park

Site 41BX1396 at Brackenridge Park marks a transition between the Late Paleoindian and the Early Archaic, with stone tools including adzes, and Angostura point (6855 + 75 B.C – 6010 B.C.) , St. Mary’s Hall points (8700-9990 years ago), and a Dalton point (8500 B.C.-7900 B.C.).

This site, a State Antiquities Landmark, has the potential to provide additional information about these time periods, and appears to have deposits for future investigation that extend over a wide area (Ulrich et al. 2012; Carpenter et al. 2008).


Toward the end of the Paleoindian period, the climate began to warm. Archaeological evidence suggests people began to expand their resource base and processing techniques, focusing more on hunting smaller game, such as deer, turkey, and rabbit. Edible roots, nuts, and fruits were gathered and eaten (Black, 1989). The long enduring Paleoindian point technology was replaced by a whole host of different styles of barbed and stemmed points adapted to the hunting of smaller game. This shift marks the transition into the Archaic Period.

Image Sources

  • “Prickly pears and pads”. Photo. TexasBeyondHistory.net 13 July 2015. < http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/peoples/images/itc-display.html>
  • “Chandler Site Paleo Indian Test Units”. Office of Historic Preservation Files.
  • “St. Mary’s Hall Point”. Office of Historic Preservation Files.
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