Archaeology Update — Intact Floor Tiles Possibly From Late 1700s Discovered Inside Alamo Church

Kristi Nichols, Director of Archaeology, Collections and Historical Research
August 26, 2020

Archaeological work conducted by Pape Dawson continued within Crockett and Bonham Streets as part of the Phase I of the Alamo Plan. Much of the work that occurred over the past week consisted of the excavation of a utility trench along Bonham and Crockett streets, as well as the excavation of utility vaults and tie-ins. Much of this work has encountered previously disturbed soils.

Archaeological work conducted by Raba Kistner associated with the preservation of the historic structures has slowed, allowing time for the placement of sensors for moisture monitoring and backfilling units once the sensors were placed. Of interest recently, sweeping and cleaning of an area outside of excavation units, but where the flagstone and concrete had been removed within the Temporary Sacristy inside the Church, revealed a section of intact floor tiles.

According to Alamo Curator Ernesto Rodriguez, a section of intact tile had been observed near the threshold between the Sacristy and the Temporary Sacristy rooms approximately 20 years ago. At one time a plexiglass window allowed visitors to see the section at the threshold. During the archaeological investigations, no intact sections were encountered, although loose tiles were recovered in the upper levels. These were collected at the time, but to be able to see another intact section within the room is exciting as much as it is informative.

Section of intact tile floor encountered inside the Alamo Church
Figure 1. Overview of the section of intact tile floor encountered inside the Alamo Church.

The tile section was observed just below the current concrete base for the flagging stone. The concrete and flagging stone were installed in 1936. We are extremely lucky that this section was not impacted by the floor installation.

The tiles appear to be rectangular and placed in a herringbone pattern. The tiles show signs of smoothing by hand during their manufacture. If examined closely, one can see hints of hand prints on the top of the tiles. Because the feature was left in place, evidence of mortar between the tiles was not able to be determined. The fragments collected from the archaeological investigations did not have evidence of mortar on the tiles. It is possible that these were dry set.

Tile fragment
Figure 2. Tile fragment recovered from the archaeological investigations.
Floor tiles revealing a pattern
Figure 3. Overview of the feature revealing the pattern.
Close up of tile floor
Figure 4. Close up of the tile floor.

The Temporary Sacristy room inside the Church initially was part of the Convento Courtyard, and may have been an access point for the priests to enter the Sacristy from their private quarters. During the later construction sequence of the Church, this patio was enclosed. According to the archival records concerning the construction of the Church, it is possible that this floor is a later addition, possibly towards the end of the Mission Period, or during the early portion of the use of the grounds as a fortress (later quarter of the 1700s to the early 1800s).

The Alamo Conservator, Pam Rosser, was one of the individuals that has helped to document the intact tile section. “The hand made terra cotta tiles are an exciting architectural feature of the Alamo’s culture,” Rosser says. Pam used distilled water to clean some of the tiles, revealing the color variations of the tile. A few tile fragments reveal black coloration, which could be related to a residue or exposure to heat. This phenomena is noted on pottery either as a result of inconsistent heating during firing or as a result of being exposed to open fires during use as cooking vessels.

Floor tiles revealing variation in color
Figure 5. Examination by Alamo Conservator, Pam Rosser, revealed the variation in color.

Once the work in the area has been completed, the feature will be protected during the replacement of the floor in the Church. Archaeological investigations will continue over the next several weeks for the Phase I investigation. The archaeological excavations associated with the preservation work in the Church are wrapping up and will be completed shortly.