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A Paleoindian and Archaic Campsite and Workshop on the Balcones Escarpment

photo of excavations at the Pavo Real site
Excavations underway in 1979 at the Pavo Real site in northwest San Antonio. The construction of Loop 1604 is underway in the background and, as can be seen, the archeological site lies directly in the route of the highway expansion.
photo of excavations
View south of the Pavo Real excavations during the fall of 1979. The surface upon which the archeologists are sitting and standing is very near the original ground surface about 13,000 years ago. looking northwest

Click on any small image for an enlarged view.

photo of Leon Creek
View of site area as it appeared during the 1979 excavations. At the time, only a single two-lane bridge crossed Leon creek. As can be seen, across the creek from the archeological site is a tall limestone bluff. Seams of chert (flint) that are still exposed in the bluff are part of an outcrop of Edwards Chert which drew the attention of passing hunting and gathering groups for thousands of years. The creek itself provided water and nourished plants and animals that, in turn, nourished the prehistoric peoples who camped here.

FAQ: What are the Archaic and Paleoindian periods?

These broad periods were conceived of as "stages" of cultural development .... read more>>

photo of Clovis blade core and two blades
Clovis blade core and two blades (removed from a different core) from Pavo Real. The site was one of the first places in North America where abundant evidence of Clovis blade technology was found. This technology allowed Clovis flint knappers to efficiently reduce nodules and small boulders of chert/flint into parallel-sided blades that could be turned into various kinds of tools.
photo of highway
Site area after construction of the first phase of the expanded highway.

Every day over 160,000 vehicles drive over Leon Creek on Loop 1604 just west of Interstate 10 in northwest San Antonio, Texas. As they speed over the creek, few drivers have any idea that Clovis and Folsom peoples once camped here some 12,000-13,000 years ago. Of course, long ago ancient campsites were common along the spring-fed streams that drain the Edwards Plateau along the Balcones Escarpment and some are still preserved today, despite the intense urban and suburban development in this area of Texas. But this particular place, which is known today as the Pavo Real site, was the subject of a major archeological excavation in 1979-1980. This is its story.

In the late 1970s the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT, then called the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation) was in the process of expanding a rural two-lane road, FM 1604, into a divided, multiple-lane suburban highway (Loop 1604) in northern Bexar County. In the highway's path lay a known archeological site with the official designation 41BX52 (being the 52nd site recorded in Bexar County, Texas). The archeological site was situated on the banks of Leon Creek on the inside of a bend in the stream. In 1979 the potential significance of the site was brought to the attention of TxDOT archeologists, who soon began archeological excavations there in an attempt to mitigate the looming impact of the highway construction project.

The excavations revealed a rather typical Archaic-era accumulation of burned rocks (spent cooking stones) and tool-making debris first seen on the surface and found buried within the shallow soils that had built up along a low stream terrace that extended for several hundred yards along Leon Creek. Artifacts and cooking pits (hearths) showed that Archaic hunters and gatherers had camped briefly at this spot off and on for at least 7,000 years. Below the Archaic deposits was a series of stream-laid gravel, sand, and silt layers that accumulated near the end of the Pleistocene (last Ice Age) about 10,000-11,00 B.C. As the end of the planned dig neared in August, 1979, the excavators started finding early Paleoindian artifacts including Folsom and Clovis points in a thin layer sandwiched between layers of gravel.

At the time, few Early Paleoindian sites had ever been investigated in this area of Texas and the site on Leon Creek appeared to hold great promise for understanding lives of the mobile "big game hunters," as Clovis and Folsom peoples were thought to represent. So the dig was extended and allowed to continue even as construction on the new highway continued apace all around the excavation. Abundant evidence of stone tool-making activities dating mainly to the Clovis period (about 13,500 to 12,500 years ago or 10,500-11,500 B.C.) was found. Clovis "knappers" (short for flint-knappers, the term for those who make tools by chipping or knapping flint or "chert") had taken advantage of the abundant chert that outcrops just across Leon Creek from the campsite. They had knocked off large, narrow "blades" from chert nodules and fashioned various kinds of cutting and scraping tools from them.

After several more months of digging, the excavations were halted and a new bridge was built over Leon Creek, entombing in concrete what remained of the archeological site, which had been named Pavo Real (Spanish for peacock). The archeological excavations at the Pavo Real site had recovered important evidence of early Paleoindian lifeways as well as some new insight into the Archaic period as well. Unfortunately, the original excavators were not able to publish a report on their work. The Pavo Real materials remained unanalyzed for 20 years. As a result the important discoveries made at the site lost much of their impact as comparable discoveries were made elsewhere in Texas and elsewhere in North America.

Two decades later, TxDOT contracted with the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory of the University of Texas at Austin to complete the analysis and reporting of the Pavo Real site. An extensive technical report was prepared that provides a detailed scientific appraisal of the archeological site. The web exhibit you are reading is a public education outreach effort intended to summarize and illustrate the most important findings.

There are four additional parts of this exhibit.

Site and Its Investigation: a description of the ecological and geological setting of Pavo Real and a more detailed summary of the archeological investigations, both the original field work and the recent analysis.

Archaic Pavo Real: summary of what has been leaned about the Archaic period occupations at the site.

Paleoindian Pavo Real: summary of what has been learned about the early Paleoindian period occupations at the site.

Credits & Sources: acknowledgements and sources for more information.


overhead photo of burned rock midden
Overhead photograph of the center of an Archaic-period burned rock midden. The two partially intersecting rings of larger rocks are remnants of the heating elements of large earth ovens. Hunters and gatherers probably baked roots in layered arrangements called earth ovens because they were originally capped by thick layers of earth that held in the heat. Burned rock middens are the result of many episodes of earth-oven cooking.
photo of miniature Paleoindian projectile
Archeologist holds miniature Paleoindian projectile point found at the Pavo Real site. It is not known whether this artifact was made by Clovis or Folsom people.
photo of early Paleoindian artifacts
Early Paleoindian artifacts from Pavo Real. Two Clovis points at the top, two fragments of Folsom points in the lower left and a blade tool (lower right).