For the last four weeks, students enrolled in the laboratory methods class have developed their own research projects analyzing and interpreting artifacts recovered from the Market Street Chinatown collection. It’s now the end of the quarter and the final results of those projects are in! Here are the titles of their papers – you can read their findings by clicking on the links to open a PDF file of each report.
During spring break, we will be traveling to Sacramento to present the preliminary findings of this research project in a symposium at the Society for California Archaeology Annual Meeting on Saturday, March 29. We will be joined by Rebecca Allen and Scott Baxter from PastForward, Inc.; Alida Bray from History San Jose; and Anita Kwock and Lillian Gong-Guy from Chinese Historical and Cultural Project. We are looking forward to a lively discussion!
Our Spring Quarter begins on April 1, and throughout the spring term we are going to continue cataloging and analyzing the Market Street Chinatown collection. We’ll post further updates on this website – probably at the end of each month – and continue to welcome your comments and suggestions.
Lynsie cataloging artifacts from 85-31.
It’s hard to believe, but we are already approaching the end of the Winter Quarter, and the completion of this course! The students are busy putting the finishing touches on their projects, and gave preliminary research presentations on Thursday in class. Soon these projects will be posted on this website, so please check back next week to read them! In our final week, students are continuing to catalog artifacts, as Lynsie is doing in this picture. The students in this class have really made a great amount of progress in cataloging the Market Street Chinatown collection. This was very clear as we reviewed the database entries to double check the consistency and completeness of the entries students made in the database – there were a lot to go through!
Form View of the Catalog Database.
Pictured here is a single form from the database. It cannot be read because the image is so small here, but this form records pertinent information about artifact 85-31/33-108, a small ceramic fragment. The database can be viewed either as a form, showing information about one artifact at a time, or as a spreadsheet summarizing information about all artifacts on a single page. The production of this database is oriented to achieving two goals. The first is a detailed, easily usable catalog of the artifacts, useful for inventory control and for gaining an overall picture of what the collection contains. The second is research-oriented: this database is searchable, and the searches that can be made are very flexible in nature. After students finished recording information about artifacts, they entered this information directly into the database. This information will allow this collection to be used as a resource for study and research, and will allow quite focused questions to be asked about the collection. We hope that this database will make data about this collection more widely available and also more easily used. Additionally, we hope that the data from this collection can be used not simply to count the number of plates in the collection, but to build a better understanding of the lives that were lived at the Market Street Chinatown.
Artifact of the Week
From left to right: cat# 85-31/18B-244, wooden game piece; cat# 85-31/24-162, hair comb; cat# 85-31/18B-302 and –303, eyeglass frames and lenses.
Many of the artifacts in the Market Street Chinatown collection evoke a feeling of connection with the individuals who lived there. This is particularly true of some of the “small finds” that were recovered from the site. The artifact on the left is a wooden game tile that was probably used to play mahjong. It’s surprisingly well preserved after being buried for nearly one hundred years! The middle artifact is a decorative hair comb. On the right are two eyeglass frame fragments with the lenses still intact. The white clouding in the otherwise clear lenses is a patina, the result of chemical changes in the glass lenses that occurred while they were buried. When I handle these artifacts, I find myself thinking about the people who used and wore them – and I wonder what they would have thought if they could have known that we would be so closely studying the broken bits of things they threw away.
Ezra Erb using our photo documentation setup to photograph a celadon bowl.
Sarah Puckitt of History San Jose visited our class this week, and talked about photo documentation of artifacts. Her talk included information about photographing single artifacts and also the place of photo documentation in collections management as a whole. Sarah is the Visual Resources Manager at History San Jose, and brought several examples of photo documentation work she has undertaken there. After this talk, we set up our photo documentation equipment in the lab. Students are beginning to photograph artifacts as part of the work associated with their project research and presentation. Already many of the lighting and framing tips given by Sarah are proving to be useful! Light can be used to highlight details that are difficult to see on the artifact, such as faint decoration or low relief. Photo documentation is important in archaeological work, in providing a visual record that can be consulted by others interested in the collection, when physical access to artifacts is difficult or impossible. Good photo documentation is also an integral part of the long-term conservation and preservation of artifact collections, because a good visual record minimizes the need to handle artifacts, and therefore decreases risks of loss or breakage.
Report of the Excavation of the Woolen Mills Chinatown. One of its principal authors, Dr. Rebecca Allen, came to talk with students in the class about the Market Street collection.
Dr. Rebecca Allen took some time out of her busy schedule to visit our class during this Friday’s lab session. She was one of the archaeologists responsible for the excavation of the Woolen Mills Chinatown in San Jose. Several of the students in this class are pursuing research projects that involve comparisons between the artifacts recovered from the Market Street and Woolen Mills sites, in order to address comparative questions about life in these two settlements. These students are cataloging and analyzing artifacts from the Market Street Chinatown collection, and comparing their results with data presented in the Woolen Mills report, Volume 1 of which is pictured to the left. Dr. Allen was very helpful in suggesting further readings and resources for students to use, as well as helping to answer some challenging questions about artifact identification and interpretation.
Artifact of the Week
Artifacts 85-31/33-107, 85-31/21-2, and 85-31/21-4.
And speaking of artifact identification and interpretation… One of the students in the class is examining medicinal bottles and medicinal practices as represented in artifacts from the Market Street Chinatown. This is not quite as straightforward as it may sound, as the definition of medicinal practices is not a simple one. Pictured here are fragments or examples of bottles that provoked a lot of questions. From left to right, these are a soda water bottle, a bottle that contained a compound “For the Hair”, and a bottle labeled “Aromatic Schnapps.” None of these artifacts are clearly medicinal in nature, but Schnapps was and is considered a health-fortifying drink by some people, hair tonics contribute to “healthy” hair, and soda water was and is often consumed to quell stomach upset. Questions about these artifacts demonstrate a real challenge of archaeological description. Decisions about how to catalog them involve substantial interpretive decisions. How would you classify these artifacts?