Saturday, June 4, 2011

hallucinating ...

so as we head into the final lap of this class my best reporting is that i spent a considerable amount of time alst night looking through pictures of mission san jose on google images to see if i might get a visual clue to just what the heck was going on in the 'eastern forty' 'possible orchard' possible 'back fill' (most likely) of our dig at DSCQHR ... no such luck ...i just keep hallucinating an orchard there ... yep that's it ... see the picture ... our artifacts with very little context are most likely the result of backfill from previous constructive/destructive activity ...

Friday, June 3, 2011

DSCQHR -The Road to Wellsville or Water as Artifact 2

The southeastern well and pump house - drilled 1918.

Historical research in support of an archaeological project is characterized by frequent dead-ends, false leads, and dealing with holders of records with priorities far removed from the target of our investigations – the DSCQHR site. I am pleased to report that a partial success has been achieved in establishing some dates for activites directly related to features on the DSCQHR site. I am even more pleased that this information comes to hand from the records of the Dominican Sisters themselves.

Before moving into further detail, however, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider why historians and archaeologists, when working historical archaeological sites, really need each other.

The historical data I have derives from the DSCQHR treasurer’s account ledger for expenses since the congregation located to San Jose. I was specifically interested in determining the dates for any activity related to drilling water wells on our property since one such well may still be clearly seen on the property to the south and east of our assigned reasearch area. Furthermore, the 1897 Sanborn map provides interesting details regarding the arrangement of water storage and the transfer of water between Linda Vista Winery and the DSCQHR complex. It was further hoped that obtaining some valid dates for the well activity might indicate possible dates for the macadam asphalt features that hold promise to give a solid date for the site’s strategraphic sequencing.

Here are my notes from the DSCQHR ledger courtesy of Sister Evangela:
In 1914, a San Francisco well-drilling company drove two wells on the property, one to a depth of 63 feet and a second to a depth of 68 feet. These wells utilized three high power motors (one presumably served as a back-up in the event a primary motor failed).

In 1918, a San Jose Drilling company drove a 105 foot well and installed an new pump and motor.
In 1923, the ledger records, “well capped and one moter sold.”
In 1931, well and pump destroyed by storm.

Having walked and surveyed the DSCQHR site, and knowing of the location of the well on the southeastern section of the property, these ledger enteries were slightly puzzling: the southeastern well definitely matched the 1918 entry for there is a San Jose Motor Co. motor still on the floor of the pumphouse; however, there was no sign of any other capped shafts for the 1914 well. Furthermore, why would a well be capped within the span of five years?

I set these notes aside and drove north to the make-up day lab where the cataloging of our assemblage is proceeding. Here I discussed these ledger entries with Professor Hartley.

He held the missing key elements for a more clear interpretation of the DSCQHR ledger data. Prof. Hartley and David B. had met with Curator Galvan last week in order to determine the fate of the human tooth excavated the preceeding week. During this meeting, Prof. Hartley and David B. explored the extreme northeastern area of our general site (immediately north of the concrete foundation). There, among other interesting elements, they located the likely remains of the pylon and wood-joist foundation for a large water tank.

Archaeology is really the most fascinating and rewarding of intellectual team sports, if I may be permitted to word the activity this way. I was busy torturing the historical evidence by cramming all the wells into the southeastern site (hydro logically unsound). I did not immediately grasp that there were multiple wells using the similar technology at different locations on the DSCQHR property. Reviewing and correlating my data against Professor Hartley and David B’s report achieved a much more valid result. Thus, to summarize:

It appears that in 1914, two wells were drilled in the northeastern sector of the DSCQHR site to depths of 63’ and 68’ respectively. It is likely that these were the wells capped in 1923 (giving them about a ten year useful life). The southeastern well was drilled in 1918 by the San Jose company and this is the well that was destroyed by storm in 1931.

Here is a possible general location for the 1914 wells immediately north of the concrete foundation (based on information proved by Prof. Hartely and David B.). As a side note, the slope marked A is steep enough to allow for sheet-wash deposition of materials from A to the area marked B (an observation also made by Prof. Hartely and David B.)

Water, and particularly the engineering of getting water, is of immense importance to understanding and interpreting aspects of California history and the picture emerging at the DSCQHR site is quite vivid. It is likely that these hydrologic artifacts relate to other activities that have modified our site substantially, perhaps even suggesting the date range and purpose for the macadam surfaces unearthed during the course of our dig.

In developing a working hypothesis for the macadam, it appeared plausible that the asphalt system dated to the early 20th century and, given the method of construction, was not later than the 1920s. The DSCQHR well drilling activity was concentrated in the years 1914 and 1918.

It would be useful to determine if the artifacts found below the macadam layer antedate 1918.

Interior of the 1918 well pump house. The motor manufactured in San Jose is in the foreground. This well was destroyed by a storm in 1931 according to DSCQHR records.

A close up of the wooden joist frame and concrete pylons (note the metal plates)of the foundation that supported the water tank storage system. This construction dates to 1918.

A view looking south over the multiple concrete slabs of a foundation configured into an open square. Immediately north of this feature are the probable remains of the 1914 well systems capped in 1923.


Thanks to everyone for posting information about dating nails. I too have been doing some research in that area. But a problem I am having is determining the types of cuts that are on the square nails because of the corrosion. Anybody else having the same issue or having success?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Got Rocks?

Excuse my lame title, but I just wanted to talk a bit about the Geology of the area. Myself and many others in the class have had none, or limited experience in the field. I guess one of the things that can really speed up and streamline (certainly not at the expense of accuracy and thorough screening) a dig, is a general understanding of local geology.

As students of archaeology, many of us are familiar with things that are directly used by humans but can still get fooled by the occcasional regional eccentricities. For me, it was tabular quartz in Nevada's playas and it was caliche here at DSCQHR. Alot of the time you can spot these tricksters but in some cases you get pieces that look ambiguous enough that you do a double take.

Additionally, knowing the assemblages in the area can help you to know what to look for. The type, color and associated minerals can always be of service, particularly where chert is concerned. Knowing what materials were available allows you to key in more precisely, what you are looking for and what stones are of interest in identifying sites that may have a large concentration of the mineral.

Talking to Brenna and David during the course of the field school, I learned that Monterrey chert is found farther from its source than I had previously thought. I had previously thought that Franciscan chert and obsidian from the Clear Lake area was the mainstay of the groups that lived in and around DSCQHR.

A book I highly recommend for anyone interested in the geology of the Bay Area is Doris Sloan's Geology of the San Francisco Bay Area. It is an excellent guide for the beginning/intermediate student of geology and gives a great overview of the assemblages in map and text form. The illustrations are great and it is easy to understand. Hopefully you can pick one up if interested.

Nailing the Date

As we excavated further and further we began to accumulate a large mass of iron nails and fittings of seemingly different types. Some seemed more modern and others, less so. I recalled that in a previous field school at Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz County (Link to site group page: I had used some basic information about the history of nail making to date a collapsed farm shed and several of the workers' cabins.

I reviewed our old site website to see if we had some of the resources I used posted but couldn't find them, so instead opted to google it. What I did find was an overview of nail-making history and its applications. I wanted to see if I could give everyone an overview of this approximate dating technique.

There are four basic classifications for identifying nails: Hand-Wrought, Type A Cut Nails, Type B Cut Nails, and Wire Nails.

Hand-Wrought Nails were manufactured entirely by hand, by a blacksmith in a process that started with a square, iron rod. After heating this rod, the smith would hammer the end of the softened metal on all four sides to attain a taper. The smith would then cut a portion of the rod to be the nail and create the head with several glancing blows. These nails were popularly used prior to 1800.

A rough picture of the product would look like this:

The second kind of nail was the Type A cut nail which appeared in the 1790's with the invention of various cutting machines. These machines would automatically taper the nail by wiggling it with each cut and cut it from a square iron rod in a guillotine-like fashion. They were popular from the 1790's to about the 1830's These nails looked something like this:

Around 1820, new machines were developed that cut the taper at an angle using an angled chopper instead of the guillotine style. Instead of wiggling the iron rod, this machine would flip the nail at each chop. These nails made similarly to the Type A, but with improved efficiency are called Type B cut nails. Type B cut nails were popular from 1820-1900. They are similar to the picture below.

Around the turn of the 19th century, a new method for creating soft steel emerged called the Bessemer method. Iron fell out of favor as it was prone to rusting and steel wire nails were produced in factories after this date. Wire nails are currently in use today and look like this:
By 1886, 10 percent of all nails used in construction were soft steel wire nails. By 1892 more than half of all nails were wire, and by 1913, 90% of all nails used were wire cut.

I hope this entry can prove useful to future catalogers!


Data entry, and the lost Coca-Cola bottle shard.

If there has been one thing I have learned from participating in digs falling under the historical archaeology clade, it is that the curation and cataloging of associated artifacts is a beast.

One can almost be certain to haul back mountains of broken glass and ceramic shards, each requiring scrutiny for the myriad markings that may give insight into origins and usage. In comparison, prehistoric sites may require the curation and cataloging of lithic debris, but you certainly aren't going to find an eighth inch "Coca-Cola" "c" on one of them.

My time spent at the lab entering baggies into the excel sheet was definitely a positive one as I was given a vantage point surveying a variety of finds. However, artifacts had broken in transit, or minutia had been overlooked. One example as mentioned above was a 3/4 inch coca cola bottle shard from the body of the bottle that had tiny micro-fractures all through it. On the convex side of the shard was some raised decoration whose outline was obscured by the micro-fractures. Squinting at it for a few minutes finally revealed that it was the characteristic, cursive font of a lowercase Coca-Cola "c", This characteristic was not mentioned and so I decided to enter it into the notes.

The importance of such minute traits might be easily underestimated. I personally have a difficult time caring about artifacts that are younger than my 81 year old grandfather and might as easily be found in the back of his refrigerator as 20 centimeters under the ground. I fight this feeling and think, "Well, if I could get my hands on a Coca-Cola catalog of historic products, maybe I could approximate when this particular bottle was made."

So much of what we do depends on how thoroughly we investigate the minutia. I think a lesson learned by myself is that the usefulness and richness of data we have to work with depends upon the undying curiosity that got us to where we are in our studies in the first place. While the mundane is easy to dismiss, it is through our level of attentiveness that interesting and informative conclusions are arrived at.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lab work, and more lab work ...

I have been in the lab three times in the last two weeks and have yet to write about the experience. As I mentioned in a previous post I felt that my organizational and cataloging skills would be well suited for archeology lab work versus my manual labor skills in the field.

First time around Wednesday 5/18, Brenna, Andrew M. and I started washing artifacts and setting them aside to dry for tagging later. Andrew got through a few more trays than myself, over all we got a good amount of washing done in about 2 hours. The following Wednesday 5/25, I got Mark, Sandra, and Kristen started on cleaning artifacts. We began to label the previously cleaned artifacts as well. During this process we got a close look at the work of the whole class I didn't realize how much material some of the units had yielded. I know that Friday Brenna, Elizabeth and Mark showed up cleaned, bagged and tagged more because I had planned on coming through but got busy before work. That being said there were more cleaned and ready artifacts Saturday in our official class lab day.

Saturday we had about half the class come through at one point or another, we got to workn in groups cleaning, tagging and organizing our findings. David got the artifact catalog set up on the Macs in the lab and we began to fully process the artifacts from our site. Some part of the class was here until about 4pm (I left at 3pm) and we got most of the artifacts washed.

As of meeting in the lab today Wednesday afternoon, 6/1 all of our current artifacts have been washed and the catalog is filling up quickly. Sounds like this Friday, 6/3 will be another full day in the lab.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lab Day!

This past week I was able to work in the lab during the week once and on Saturday with everyone! Working in the lab is great because we all get to see what the other members of the class have collected. On Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday) I came in briefly to help with washing, this included going bag by bag and carefully washing/cleaning any non bone/metal material, I really enjoyed this because I got to get a close look at many things. Some of the most interesting artifacts we have in my opinion are the pieces of earthenware with identifiable/semi-identifiable marks; Promise was working on looking through Dr. Miller's books and trying to find some matches. During this day we struggled with finding a good place for all our our washed artifacts to dry so Prof. Hartley put together a drying rack that was able to accommodate more artifacts.

Saturday was more of the same, we have so many artifacts to get through! This day I worked with tagging and bagging gurus Mark and Elizabeth who explained to me (multiple times..sorry!) how to properly fill out an artifact card and re bag what we had. Some of the most interesting things I saw this day were the many nails we have recovered from the various units! We worked with a few different books to try and identify the nails by their characteristics..e.g. flat head...and by using the information we had we could try to identify how long ago certain types of nails were produced and used! I never knew you could find out so much information from just a simple nail! I'm looking forward to getting back on site this next weekend, I miss digging in the dirt!

In the lab

It was interesting spending a couple of days in the lab last week. I washed artifacts Wednesday afternoon and for a couple of hours on Saturday before I moved on to sorting baggies and writing up artifact tags. Washing and sorting bags from the pits and trench levels where I worked gave me another chance to examine in detail items that I had seen only briefly when screening. Unfortunately my subsequent review of the small folded metal piece with a a cross die cut was not as interesting as I thought (photo and discussion in a previous post). After washing, the piece looked more like a manufactured utilitarian part; both Dr. Miller and Mark concurred. Examining the nails was also interesting. I had done some research on nail history and hoped to date a couple of the ones we found in the trench. Because of the corrosion on the nails sides I was not able to determine if the nails were hand or machine cut; I think I'll spend some more time with them this week.