The Center for Archaeological Research, at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was established as an organized research unit in September 1974; it is housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The center has four major goals: to train students in archeology, to promote archeological research in southern and south central Texas, to carry out archeological surveys and other investigations required by state and federal legislation, and to aid local agencies and citizens needing the services of professional archeologists. The first director of the center, 1974–87, was Thomas R. Hester; its first associate director was Jack D. Eaton, who became acting director in 1987.
Public, or contract, archeology, surveys, assessments, and excavations for local, regional, state, and federal agencies have been integrated with the UTSA anthropology program. The Friends of Archaeology, a public-outreach program, was developed in 1985 and has more than 100 members in South Texas. In addition to its focus on the archeology of southern Texas, center projects have been carried out in other parts of the state, New Mexico, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. The Gateway Project, a two-year study funded in large part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, conducted excavations, historical research, and ethnohistoric studies of Indian groups concentrated in the missions of San Bernardo and San Juan Bautista, south of the site of modern-day Piedras Negras, Coahuila. The Colha Project, administered by the center from 1979 to 1987 and focused on excavations at the Mayan site of Colha, an ancient community that specialized in stone-tool production in what is now northern Belize. The Río Azul project, a Mayan excavation site in Guatemala, was initially sponsored by the center in the mid-1980s.
The largest project carried out by the center in South Texas involved the study of the archeological resources of the Choke Canyon Reservoir, on the Frio River in Live Oak and McMullen counties. The reservoir basin encompassed 40,000 acres, in which archeologists discovered more than 300 prehistoric and historic sites and carried out major excavations at several. Numerous center projects have involved the archeology of downtown San Antonio, including excavations at the Alamo and in its environs. In the early 1990s the center studied nineteenth-century neighborhoods being razed for the construction of the Alamodome. In 1985 a long-forgotten earthworks of Santa Anna's army was found in the La Villita area of San Antonio and was fully excavated by center staff. Among other prehistoric site studies done by the center in southern Texas are the excavations at the Panther Spring Creek Site in Bexar County; a survey of the proposed Applewhite Reservoir, also in Bexar County; excavations at the Hinojosa Site in Jim Wells County; and fieldwork on the Leona River in Uvalde County.
The center's research programs, including those sponsored through governmental contracts and those funded through grants from foundations, are reported in nine publication series. The most active series are Archaeological Survey Reports, with more than 200 volumes issued through 1992, and Special Reports, with 18 volumes. The Choke Canyon Series was completed in 1986, with the publication of 12 volumes on the center's study of prehistoric and historic resources in that reservoir basin. The other series, with limited numbers published to date, include Archaeology and History of the San Juan Bautista Mission Area, Coahuila and Texas; Colha Papers; Guidebooks in Archaeology; Regional Studies; Río Azul Interim Reports; and Working Papers. The center's Archaeology Laboratory is a regional repository for prehistoric and historic archeological collections and records. Hundreds of collections from Texas, New Mexico, and Belize are curated in the laboratory, which has been directed by Anne A. Fox since 1975.