LOMA SANDIA

Richard and Janis Hudson

LOMA SANDIA. Loma Sandia (41LK28), a prehistoric campsite and cemetery, is located in Live Oak County on a sandy knoll along a small tributary of the Frio River about three miles north of Three Rivers, Texas, and one mile south of U. S. Highway 281 and Interstate Highway 37. The name Loma Sandia, or “Watermelon Hill” in Spanish, derives from the fact that the overlaying field was used for growing watermelons by local farmers.

The late Middle Archaic Indian campsite and cemetery covers approximately 15.15 acres, 46 percent of property is owned by the State of Texas and 54 percent privately owned. About 205 human skeletal remains discovered in a section of the cemetery were found closely interred on two separate levels. Strata analysis suggested that burials occurred from 850 to 550 B.C. A variety of tribes comprising about 200 bands and sharing a language dialect anthropologically described as Coahuiltecan ranged from San Antonio southward into Mexican Coahuila and Tamaulipas.

The cemetery predates by approximately 2,000 years the first European explorer and historian, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who traveled through South Texas and northern Mexico and later published an account of his adventure. The Coahuiltecan natives Cabeza de Vaca encountered made annual forays into the area to eat the succulent cacti tunas and pecans from trees along the Nueces River. Tubers, small creatures, earth substances, and occasional larger animals also contributed to their meager diet. Cabeza de Vaca’s report of the area and native life was so descriptive that he is regarded as Texas’s first ethnologist.

The Loma Sandia site advanced understanding of the ancient peoples of South Texas. According to Thomas R. Hester, director of the Center for Archaeological Research and an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas in San Antonio when the site was excavated, earlier archeological findings in Live Oak County strongly implied that only single Indian graves existed, suggesting the existence of a nomadic culture with little or no societal or territorial boundaries. Loma Sandia cemetery, however, documented a more communal, though itinerant, culture, encamping periodically for religious and funeral rituals. This activity occurred over a period of several hundred years. Secondly, artifacts found with the burial remains show slowly developing tool sophistication over time. Other artifacts such as shells indicate trading patterns between coastal tribes, and certain materials and points used for hunting were traded among tribes farther west.

Surface artifacts discovered in a preliminary 1973 review of proposed property for the new Interstate Highway 37 right-of-way opened the door to the Loma Sandia project. Excavation and study from September 1977 until October 1978 at Loma Sandia involved the efforts of the Texas Highway Department (now Texas Department of Transportation), Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Texas at San Antonio. The project brought together archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and approximately fifty local workers. To preserve site integrity, the excavation teams worked within standards set by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Highway Department and Texas Antiquities Committee, dated January 5, 1972.

A two-volume multi-disciplinary site report published in 1995 by Anna J. Taylor and Cheryl L. Highley of the University of Texas at Austin detailed artifacts recovered and the historical significance of Loma Sandia. Maciej Henneberg, a professor in archaeological studies from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, and visiting anthropology lecturer with the University of Texas, Austin, correctly predicted possibly 200 burials when work at the site began. From evidence drawn from the graves, Henneberg reconstructed cultural and ceremonial traditions represented by this band of Coahuiltecans. As late as 2012, Henneberg, then a professor in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide in Australia, remarked that the definitive cultural findings of Loma Sandia were still to be written. A Texas Historical Marker honoring the Loma Sandia Prehistoric Cemetery was erected near Three Rivers at the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Interstate Highway 37 in 2012.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Corpus Christi Caller, March 6, 1978; June 21, 1978. Dr. Maciej Henneberg, Telephone Interview by Janis Hudson. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Anna Jean Taylor and Cheryl Lynn Highley, et.al., Archeological Investigations at the Loma Sandia Site (41LK28): A Prehistoric Cemetery and Campsite in Live Oak County, Texas, Vol. 1. (Austin: University of Texas at Autin, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, 1995). Three Rivers Progress, September 21, 1977.

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Handbook of Texas Online, Richard and Janis Hudson, "LOMA SANDIA," accessed September 18, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bbl18.

Uploaded on March 24, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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