Archaeologists excavating an area below the nave of the Alamo Church found multiple human bones and bone fragments in August and September, including teeth, toe bones, and a rib, according to dig reports.
The archaeological work is part of an architectural study of the Alamo’s Church and Long Barrack, whose preservation is included in the $450 million Alamo redevelopment currently underway. All of bones have since been removed and stored in the environmentally controlled Alamo Collections vault, while the investigation continues on their origin and how they came to be buried below the church.
“This is one of the most transformational projects in the nation today,” said Alamo Trust CEO Douglass McDonald at a City Council committee meeting Monday. “This is a project that will transform the way we see and experience our downtown. It creates wonderful new civic spaces, and it reclaims the historic site so people who come to the Alamo actually understand the full history of the Alamo.”
The archaeological reports are included in a response to an open records request by Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, a San Antonio group that claims to be the descendants of indigenous people who lived at the Mission San Antonio de Valero, later known as the Alamo. Tap Pilam is suing the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which owns the Alamo, along with the nonprofit that manages it, in an effort to have more say in the treatment of human remains found there.
On Aug. 14, archaeologists with Raba Kistner Environmental were digging below the flagging stone and underlying concrete slab of the church when they found a talus bone, a bone that forms the lower part of the ankle joint. Later, they found another human foot bone in the same place.
The excavations were taking place in an area where a trench was dug below the church floor to install a 4-inch-wide, cast iron sewer pipe and a smaller, 2-inch water pipe. Archaeologists were unsure about the “context” of how the bones got there, according to one report, marked “draft.”
“It is possible that the trench that was excavated to install the sewer line and nearby conduit could have disturbed one or more intact or previously disturbed burials interred below the floor of the church,” the report states. “It is also possible that the remains may derive from fill that was used to bury the pipes but the fill itself derives from a different provenience.”
Archaeologists later sifted the excavated soil from the area through a mesh screen and found a “heavily worn” tooth and a toe bone. They decided to continue excavating to investigate the age and sex of individuals buried there and whether they were originally interred there or moved there as part of the sewer line installation.
As they continued digging, they found more remains, including a rib and rib fragments, more teeth, and toe bones, according to reports from Sept. 23 and 24.
All of the work was done in accordance with the human remains protocol developed by an archaeological committee with members of federally recognized Native American tribes, the reports state.
Bryant J. Celestine, tribal archivist at the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and the official tribal monitor chosen by the committee, was present to observe all the work, the reports state. Officials with the Texas Historical Commission, Alamo Trust, and other authorities were notified in August after the initial discovery.
Tap Pilam members have maintained that they should have been part of this committee.
“The people receiving the protocols have no spiritual, religious, or lineal connection to the people that are buried there, and the people that do are left out of the process,” Tap Pilam leader Ramon Vasquez, director of American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, said last week.
One major complication is that no San Antonio groups that claim indigenous ancestry at the Alamo, including Tap Pilam, have federal recognition as Native American tribes. GLO officials point to that lack of federal recognition and say the committee members are part of federally recognized tribes that do have connections to the Spanish colonial mission and battle site in the Texas Revolution.
The archaeological reports released by Tap Pilam might not document all of the bones found as part of the archeological work underway at the Alamo’s Church and Long Barrack. GLO officials last week said remains were found inside the church and outside the Long Barrack but declined to answer further questions about them, possibly because of the lawsuit.
San Antonio City Council members will get an update on the remains behind closed doors at a Thursday executive session, City Attorney Andy Segovia said at a Monday meeting of the council’s Planning and Community Development Committee.