The archaeological record in Bexar County dates back at least 11,200 years. The first occupations occurred in the Paleo-Indian period during the last part of the Pleistocene, indicated by the occurrence of scattered Clovis and Folsom spear points. Groups were likely small and highly mobile. Clovis peoples (9200 B.C.) hunted Ice Age mammals, such as mammoth, and the later Folsom bands (8800 B.C.) pursued large, extinct species of bison (buffalo). Among the important Late Paleo-Indian sites in Bexar County are Pavo Real, St. Mary’s Hall, the Richard Beene Site, and the Chandler Site. As modern environments began to emerge around 10,000 years ago, Paleo-Indian peoples were more numerous, and there is widespread evidence of occupation throughout the region.
The hunting and gathering patterns of this early timeframe, involving modern species of animals and plants, began to be intensified by 8,000 B.C., leading to the development of Archaic cultures. This way of life lasted for thousands of years, reflected by regional specialization and locally distinctive types of projectile points, scrapers, and other stone tools. Important Archaic sites include those along Panther Springs Creek within the Walker Ranch National Register District, Medina River, and the Culebra Creek. It was not until about 500 A.D. that changes in this long-lived tradition began to emerge.
The introduction of the bow and arrow marked the beginning of the Late Prehistoric period. For over 10,000 years, the ancient hunters had used the spear and spear-thrower, or atlatl, as their main weapon, and this began to be replaced by the bow and arrow around 2000 years ago. The most distinctive archaeological indicator is the presence of tiny arrow points, and later, around A.D. 1300, the intensified hunting of buffalo. The material culture from this era is notable for the presence of pottery and other distinctive artifacts. With the arrival of the Spanish in the region in the late 17th century, the native peoples of the Historic period began to go into the missions. The raids of invading Lipan Apache bands spurred this transition. Those Native Americans who went into the missions were joined by groups from south Texas and northeast Mexico. These groups continued their distinctive bone-tempered pottery, along with stone-tool making, throughout the Spanish Colonial period.
San Antonio is best known for the four 18th century Spanish missions that are now part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and a fifth mission, San Antonio de Valero, or the Alamo. The missions, and features linked to the missions (such as acequias, gristmills, and dams), have received a great deal of archaeological attention. The Spanish presidio, Presidio San Antonio de Béxar was constructed in 1722 in what is now downtown San Antonio. Archaeological investigations in Bexar County include those at site 41BX274, the Perez Rancho, one of the few privately owned Spanish Colonial ranches documented in the region.
The expansion of 19th century San Antonio saw the rise of neighborhoods around the missions and adjacent to the San Antonio river corridor. Eventually, the construction of railroads, industrial areas, and other facets of urban growth occurred. Urban archaeological sites have been documented for the construction of major public projects such as Rivercenter Mall, the Alamodome, and the Hyatt Regency Convention Center Hotel.
A total of over 2180 archaeological sites have been recorded in San Antonio and throughout Bexar County. The Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) is actively involved in the discovery, documentation, and preservation of these significant cultural resources. Archaeological sites are protected under the City of San Antonio Unified Development Code (UDC). The UDC has one of the strongest preservation ordinances in the country for the protection of cultural resources including protection measures for archaeological sites.