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Cultures in Central Texas

The excavation of hundreds of archaeological sites throughout Texas during the last century has helped researchers recognize important regional patterns in different parts of the state. Some of these patterns, such as changes in the shape and size of projectile points as well as other developments that can be placed in time, are used to proposed sequences of culture change, or chronologies, for the past. In spite of more than a century of work on the prehistoric cultural chronologies of Texas, there is still much to be learned.

Archaeological deposits in Central and South Texas indicate rich cultural developments lasting for many thousands of years. Archaeologists divide this long sequence into two major periods: Prehistoric and Historic. A brief interval between these two is called the Protohistoric period. The cultural history of Texas, as presented below, is illustrated with artifacts recovered from Zatopec and by no means represents the entirety of data gleaned from throughout the state.

The Prehistoric Period

The Prehistoric period is divided into three sub-periods (from oldest to youngest): Paleoindian, Archaic, and Late Prehistoric. The Paleoindian period begins with the earliest known human occupation of North America and extends to approximately 8800 years before present (or BP). The Archaic period follows, extending from about 8800 BP to 1250 BP. Because this period is so long, researchers divide it further into Early-, Middle-, and Late Archaic. The Late Prehistoric period begins at around 1250 BP and extends to European contact. The images of projectile points (or projectile point fragments) below are representations of each time period present at Zatopec. Click on the images to get a brief description of the cultural eras.

metal arrow point  The Protohistoric Period

In Texas, the Protohistoric period, also known as the Spanish Entrada period, was marked by Spanish colonias forming expeditions and establishing forts and missions. Encounters between Spanish and native groups began with the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and also with the Narvaez expedition during the first half of the 16th century. With Alonso de Leon's expedition of 1680, El Camino Real was established, extending from Villa Santiago de la Monclova in Mexico to East Texas. This roadway followed established Native American trade routes and trails, and it became a vital link between Mission San Juan Bautista in Northern Mexico and the Spanish settlement of Los Adaes in East Texas.

Spanish priests accompanying entradas provided the most complete information of indigenous cultures of early Texas. Groups that were documented during the early explorations include the Cantona, Muruam, Payaya, Sana, and Yojuane, who were settled around the springs at San Marcos and were described as semi-nomadic bands. Other tribes encountered in and around what is now San Marcos included mobile hunting parties from villages in South and West Texas, such as Catequeza, Cayanaaya, Chalome, Cibolo, and Jumano. Much later, Tonkawa from Oklahoma and Lipan and Comanche from the Plains migrated into the region. In some cases, like the arrow point shown to the right, indigenous people used European goods to make familiar tools.

texas rangers The Historic Period

Spanish settlement in Central Texas first occurred in San Antonio with the establishment of Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) in 1718, and the later founding of San Antonio de Bexar. The establishment of Spanish colonies is what distinguishes the Historic period from the Protohistoric, and much like the story of the previous period, knowledge of the Historic period is provided by records written by missionaries. Besides the mission town of San Antonio, the only other Spanish settlement in the region was San Marcos de Neve, established in 1808, four miles south of present day San Marcos. San Marcos de Neve was abandoned in 1812 as a result of constant raids by local tribes. During this time, massive depopulation occurred among the Native Americans, mostly due to European diseases to which the indigenous people had little resistance. The few indigenous people remaining were nearly all displaced to reservations by the mid-1850s.

European presence in the region increased as settlers received land grants from the Mexican government until 1835. Settlement was difficult, however, due to continuation of hostilities with Native American tribes. The Texas Rangers provided protection from these conflicts after Texas secured independence from Mexico in 1836. Pioneering of the region increased through 1845, when Texas gained admission to the United States, resulting in the formation of Hays County in 1848. Pictured to the right is General Edward Burleson (Texas State Library and Archives Commission), one of founders of the City of San Marcos (ca. 1846).


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