Ayala Site

By: Thomas R. Hester

Type: General Entry

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: June 25, 2013

The Ayala Site (41HGl) is located 1½ miles south of McAllen, on a fifteen-foot bluff on the north side of the Sardinas Resaca, an old channel of the Rio Grande. It is one of several cemeteries known from the Rio Grande valley. Almost all of these date to the Brownsville Complex and constitute a distinctive mortuary pattern with similar kinds of burials and grave offerings. The site was first discovered in 1948 during construction of a sewer trench on M. E. Ayala's farm. Several human burials were exposed. In July 1948 a University of Texas student, Jack Frizzell, visited the Ayala farm. He helped to uncover a total of eleven prehistoric burial sites. Except for one group burial, the remainder had been individual inhumations. There are two distinct silt (alluvial) layers at the site; the upper ("light silt") goes from the surface to about six feet below ground level, with the lower ("dark silt") beneath. All of the burials came from the light silt alluvium.

A number of ornaments were associated with the burials exposed in 1948. Burial 8, for example, had a necklace of ninety-four shell and bone beads. The group burial, comprising two adults and three children, included more bone and shell beads. Frizzell's excavations also recovered a number of stone tools and animal-bone remains, an indication that the Ayala site burials had been placed in midden deposits.

In 1952 another University of Texas student, Frederick Reucking, Jr., returned to the site. Rather than the hurried salvage work done by Frizzell, Reucking was able to lay out a grid and to excavate several units. His fieldwork was hampered, however, by haphazard digging by local people looking for a "treasure cave" believed to exist on the Ayala farm. This looting turned up additional archeological materials that Ruecking had to document. He apparently excavated seven burials, and he recorded numerous others uncovered by the looting. A plan of the site drawn by Ruecking shows the locations of a total of forty-four burials, including those reported by both Ruecking and Frizzell and those opened by the looters.

The artifacts found in the 1952 fieldwork, both by Ruecking and in the uncontrolled digging, were more varied then the assemblage found by Frizzell. These included a number of olive shell (Oliva sayana) beads and "tinklers" (shell bells). There were also numerous disk-shaped beads fashioned of conch shell. A dozen coyote canine teeth were found, all of which had been perforated for use either as pendants or as clappers to hang inside the olive shell tinklers. Other mortuary offerings included a large triangular conch-shell gorget and five rectangular bone pendants, two of which have engraved designs. A fragment of a large white-tailed deer antler was found with one burial, and a turtle shell was with another. The latter probably represents a rattle-type musical instrument.

Data from Frizzell and Ruecking suggest that the burial pits at Ayala were circular in outline and four to five feet deep. Most contained one individual, in a flexed position, with the forearms crossed or the hands adjacent to the face. Some of the burials may represent secondary ("bundle") burials. Red ochre, or hematite, had been placed with Burial 1, excavated by Frizzell. He also noted evidence of violent death for Burial 8 (a strong blow to the right side of the skull) and for Burial 10, with an embedded projectile-point fragment in one of the lumbar vertebrae.

The kinds of artifacts found with the Ayala Site burials are largely typical of the Brownsville Complex (from ca. A.D. 1400 to the time of Spanish contact). However, some of the burials may date to earlier, Archaic occupations of the area. Indeed, Ruecking observed that the lower levels of the midden appeared to him to be related to the Archaic period. The large number of burials may indicate the use of a preferred cemetery location by generations of hunters and gatherers, spanning the time from the Archaic into the Late Prehistoric (Brownsville Complex).

Other burial areas are known near the Ayala Farm. One of these is only a half mile upstream from the Ayala Site. A burial from that site, found at a depth of six feet, was accompanied by many of the same types of artifacts found at the Ayala Site. These included disk-shaped beads, tubular bone beads (including some made from sections of human long bones), olive-shell beads and tinklers, and a large conch-shell pendant.

A number of the burials and many of the artifacts from the Ayala Site are curated at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, on the J. J. Pickle Research Campus of the University of Texas at Austin. However, Frizzell and Ruecking both recorded numerous skeletal remains and artifacts that remained the property of the landowner or other individuals in the McAllen area.

T. N. Campbell and Jack Q. Frizzell, "Notes on the Ayala Site, Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society 20 (1949). Michael B. Collins, Thomas R. Hester, and Frank A. Weir, "The Floyd Morris Site (41CF2), a Prehistoric Cemetery Site in Cameron County, Texas," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 40 (1969). Thomas R. Hester, Digging into South Texas Prehistory (San Antonio: Corona, 1980). Thomas R. Hester and Frederick Ruecking, Jr., "Additional Materials from the Ayala Site, a Prehistoric Cemetery Site in Hidalgo County, Texas," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 40 (1969).

  • Archeology
  • Land Sites

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas R. Hester, “Ayala Site,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ayala-site.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
June 25, 2013