Archaeology Update — Artifacts From Mission Period Discovered In Long Barrack

Kristi Nichols, Director of Archaeology, Collections and Historical Research
August 16, 2019

During the week of August 12, the archaeology team associated with the preservation work continued excavations in the Long Barack. The archaeologists were able to work on five units in and around the Long Barrack while awaiting permissions to start the exterior unit on the north side of the structure.

Excavation Unit 18 had reached the base of the foundation of the Long Barrack the previous week. Archaeologists completed mapping and profiling on Monday of this week. Excavation Unit 17, with the features relating to the mercantile store occupation, was also mapped and profiled. This unit has placed on hold while determinations are made with the design team concerning how to proceed. Three other excavation units either continued or were opened in the historic structure.

Excavation Unit 9, located in the southern corner of the Long Barrack interior continued to remove each of the compacted surfaces. As the lower compacted surfaces are excavated, it appears that the artifacts mostly are associated with the earlier dates of the mission occupation at the site.

Archaeologists are encountering rusted pieces of metal, fragments of colonial ceramics, and some chipped stone artifacts. One shard of Puebla Polychrome was recovered from approximately 1 meter below the surface in this unit. Puebla Polychrome is a type of majolica ceramic manufactured in Puebla, Mexico.

The last known dates of manufacture of this type of ceramic is 1720, making it one of the oldest types that has been recovered from the Spanish Colonial Missions in San Antonio.

Fragments of ceramics in the palm of a hand
Figure 1. Spanish Colonial ceramics recovered from Excavation Unit 9.
Ceramic fragments with a blue tin glaze
Figure 2. Fragment of Puebla Polychrome, one of the oldest Spanish Colonial ceramics found on site.
Two archaeologists inside an excavation unit
Figure 3. Excavations of Unit 12, in the northern portion of Long Barrack. Note flagstone layer under dustpans.

Excavation Unit 12, which was started on Friday of last week, continued excavations to the depths approved by the historic architects while awaiting the opening of the partner unit on the exterior of the wall. This unit is placed on the interior of the north wall of the Long Barrack. The first level of excavation revealed indications of a builder’s trench similar to that seen in Excavation Unit 9.

In the third level of excavations, a series of flagstones were noted in the southeast corner of the unit. As the flagstone feature continued to be uncovered, research was conducted to determine what the flagstone was associated with. Under the flagstone is a layer of caliche. It is unknown if the caliche is associated with the flagstone, or if this was a previous surface. The northern end of the caliche appears to be cut by the builder’s trench.

A photograph ca. 1919 depicts a billboard in the northern part of the Long Barrack. It is not confirmed, but it could be possible that the flagstone is related to the base of the billboard support.

The uncovered portions of the west and north wall of the Long Barrack shows signs of a more modern patch, but unlike the southern unit, the patch material does not appear to be Portland Cement. Excavations will continue in this unit during the next week, once the partner unit is opened on the exterior of the wall.

Long Barrack and Alamo Church in 1919, lined with street cars
Figure 4. Photo ca. 1919 showing a billboard in the northern portion of the Long Barrack.

Excavation Unit 11 was opened during the end of the week in the Long Barrack. This unit is located against the west wall, in the central portion of the Long Barrack. Similar to Excavation Unit 12, a partner unit is set to be placed next week on the exterior of the wall.

In the first level, artifacts encountered included clear glass, wire, cut and wire nails, olive glass, and various late ceramics. In the second level that is in progress contained various colors of glass, cut and wire nails, clear glass bottles, copper fragment, and brick fragments. Since excavations have not gone very deep at the moment, there is no information about the construction of the wall to detail at this time.

Preparations were made to start in the Church, but excavations were limited to exposing a previously unknown sewer line identified after removing the concrete. No work is planned to continue until a later time to deal with the unexpected find. Pedestrian traffic will be redirected along the northern edge of the Plaza to allow for the placement of the archaeological units on the exterior of the Long Barracks. As always, the Alamo will remain open to the public.

Archaeologist inside an excavation unit
Figure 5. Beginning of excavation of Unit 11 inside the Long Barrack.
Two glass bottles, covered in dirt from an excavation
Figure 6. Two glass bottles recovered from Excavation Unit 11.