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Archeologists found a small, metal cannon shot while excavating inside the Alamo Tuesday and they have reason to believe it came from a Mexican cannon fired 183 years ago during the iconic siege of the mission.
Hundreds of artifacts have been found in Alamo Plaza over the past several months, but this represents the first that could be tied directly to the Battle of the Alamo. It’s the only cannon shot that has been found.
The shot is just over one inch in diameter and weighs 67.7 grams. It’s rough to the touch and dark green in color from the oxidized copper that was blended with metal to make the shot. One side is flat, likely from hitting an interior wall of the 275-year-old Franciscan mission, said Kristi Miller Nichols, Alamo archeologist.
These shots were placed in canisters, about 60 per, and then fired from cannons with gunpower for a shotgun-like spray of deadly metal.
“The Alamo defenders would have used iron [not copper] when creating their canister shots,” Nichols said. “We know this has copper in it because it is green. It has a little bit of pink on it, which is the initial [color] of oxidation.”
It was found in the main chamber of the church on the right side near the wall, she said, and is typical of the shots that the Mexican Army used at the time of the 13-day siege Battle of the Alamo in 1836.
“There’s been a lot of change that has happened at the site, so I’m excited that we’ve found something like this,” Nichols said. “Most of what we’ve seen so far is lead shot that appear to be more related to the U.S. military occupation. So to find something that we feel we can probably attribute to the Mexican Army is really neat.”
It was found 16 centimeters to 30 centimeters below the modern-day floor while archeologists were digging to analyze and possibly fortify the foundation. As San Antonio developed, layers of materials were added to the floor of the church, Long Barrack, and plaza. Archeologists estimate that 1 to 3 feet of the structures’ walls have been buried over time.
Tuesday was a big day for archeologists and conservators, as they also found several very small sections of paint on interior and exterior walls of the Long Barrack.
The small fragments, less than a centimeter in diameter, are the first evidence that the Long Barrack, originally living quarters or conventos, was brightly painted – similar to its four sister missions further south along the San Antonio River. The missions were painted with bright patterns in part to attract the indigenous people that the Franciscans hoped to convert to Catholicism. Over time, the frescoes faded and fell off due to wind erosion.
“It would make sense that they were all decorated in similar ways,” said Alamo conservator Pam Jary Rosser.
Rosser was lying on the ground inside the church, meticulously dabbing a segment of the more than 270-year-old paint with a sea sponge soaked in distilled water. Slowly, the sponge lifted the dirt off to reveal thick, red paint.
“It confirms that the convento, [or] Long Barrack was being treated in the same way as the other missions,” Nichols said. “People forget that before this was a fort, this was a mission.”
The fresco paintings – typically red, yellow, blue, white, and black – are classic features of Spanish-colonial missions, Rosser said. The Alamo’s color palette included red, black, yellow, and white – similar to what has been found at Mission San José.
“It’s exciting because the Long Barrack we didn’t think had any [paint],” Rosser said. “But we found quite a [few] fragments” below the modern-day surface.
The discovery comes just days after the remains of three bodies – believed to be a young adult, infant, and adult – were discovered in the Monks Burial Room and the Nave, or main chamber, of the church.
“The long-established human remains protocol was activated, the on-site tribal monitor was notified, and excavation of the particular site was halted,” according to a statement released by the Texas General Land Office. “As we move forward, the GLO and Alamo Trust Inc. will continue to follow all applicable laws and procedures.”
Other human bone fragments were also discovered earlier this year. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation filled a lawsuit against the City, Texas General Land Office, and nonprofit Alamo Trust over how human remains found at the site are treated.
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Teams of archeologists find roughly 50 to 100 artifacts a day, Nichols said, typically animal bones, glass, and pottery.
The archeological teams were deployed to install moisture and monitoring equipment and to locate the foundations of the structures. This will allow preservation experts to best protect them.
That work is part of a massive Alamo Plaza redevelopment over the next several years with plans to establish a “world-class” museum, close streets to vehicular traffic in the plaza, establish plaza entry points, move the Cenotaph, and preserve the historic Alamo mission and Long Barrack.
“Typically this [kind of] work is done to collect data for a certain research question or we’re trying to go in before construction work,” Nichols said. “What we’re here specifically for is to help the historic architects and help to inform what needs to [happen] to preserve the church and the Long Barrack.”