An archaeological investigation for a street improvement project in downtown San Antonio revealed two bone fragments and several small pieces of metal that may have been pieces of an 1800s-era coffin, City officials said Monday.
“We know from the archival record … that there are three historic-aged cemeteries in this area so there was some expectation we’d find something,” said Shawn Marceaux, an archaeologist with City’s Office of Historic Preservation.
Archaeologists who have been digging below North Santa Rosa Street at Milam Park for about six weeks found the human remains on May 13 about 4 feet below the sidewalk level.
Crews stopped work, established a buffer around the discovery, and then notified the City, State, and local descendant groups, Marceaux said. “The City is working with these groups throughout the project to ensure any such finds are treated with dignity and respect they deserve and in compliance with local and state laws and regulations” including those outlined in the Texas Antiquities Permit and Human Burial Remains Protocol.
A tent was erected near the site’s buffer zone for descendants to observe the archaeological process.
The materials, the largest of which is roughly the size of a half-dollar coin, are being held at a lab at the University of Texas at San Antonio until they can be analyzed and ultimately interred. Preferably, they would be returned to the site where they were found, Marceaux said.
He estimates the materials date back to the early- to mid-1800s. “Archaeologists will continue to carefully investigate the area to gather additional information regarding the discovery.”
Archaeological work at the site continues, and the project team does not expect any more delays as it works to improve the street, sidewalk, and other pedestrian amenities, said project manager Sean Reich. “Our schedule at this point, depending on what happens in the future, should not be impacted.”
The $270,000, seven- to eight-week archaeological investigation was built into the street improvement project that was approved as part of the 2017 municipal bond package. The project’s design is slated for completion in early 2021 and construction for mid to late summer.
Discoveries like this are exactly why these investigations are carried out before construction begins, Reich said. “The purpose of this archaeological investigation is to … determine what may actually exist within the project area.”
In 2016, the remains of about 70 people were found in a construction area of the nearby Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. After descendant groups protested initial plans to move the remains, they were instead ceremonially reburied at the former Catholic cemetery site the following year.
“San Antonio has a long and rich Spanish colonial history, so [finding human remains is] not uncommon,” Marceaux said.