First Week of Class

R. Scott Baxter, of Past Forward, Inc., training students to use the catalog database.

This week is the beginning of Winter Quarter at Stanford, and we held our first two course meetings. The students in this class are quite enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with this collection, and bring a diverse array of experience and interests to this project. We began with a brief introduction to the history of the Market Street Chinatown collection, including an overview of the history of Chinese settlements in San Jose and of the excavations that produced this collection. At our second course meeting we were joined by Rebecca Allen of Past Forward, Inc. Dr. Allen is one of the archaeologists responsible for the Woolen Mills Chinatown excavations in San Jose. She gave a presentation to our class about this excavation, and discussed the archaeology of Chinese settlement sites in California more generally, helping us to have a picture of how our work in this class can contribute to better understanding of this important part of the history of California.

Gina Michaels cataloging a ceramic lid.

On our first day in the laboratory, we held orientation sessions in order to familiarize students with the lab. Scott Baxter of Past Forward, Inc. led an important part of this orientation, showing students how to use the database that he has developed for us. The database we are using is designed in order to allow comparison of the Woolen Mills and Market Street Chinatown collections, and also to be a useful tool for facilitating future research utilizing the collection. Our orientation continued with an introduction to the routine tasks that are essential to cataloging this collection, such as how to handle artifacts safely in the lab, how to wash artifacts, how to use basic lab equipment such as the microscope or balances for weighing, how to use archaeological conventions for labeling artifacts, and how to use reference material for identifying and studying artifacts. We were able to check a box of artifacts out to each student to begin cataloging. As we began to take the lids off of boxes and get to the work of cataloging, it is safe to say that all of the students were excited by the artifacts that they found in their boxes. This is a really great collection! One of the first artifacts unpacked today is this week’s Artifact of the Week.

Artifact of the Week

Ceramic sherd, catalog # 85-31/3-1

This artifact has a lot to say in itself about life in Market Street Chinatown. This artifact is an eight and a half inch plate made of white improved earthenware, manufactured at Stoke-upon-Trent in Great Britain, a major center of ceramic production in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This plate was probably manufactured by Close & Co. This information was gained by looking at the manufacturer’s mark that was partly preserved on the base of this plate. The other side of the plate has another story to tell. If you look at the picture of the plate, you will see three near-rectangles that have been pecked through the glaze. Many residents of the Market Street Chinatown took their meals in communal kitchens, and marked their plates and bowls with symbols indicating personal ownership. Is this a symbol that anyone recognizes?

Beginning of the Project

Market Street Chinatown site, Feature 13 (redwood-lined pit), after excavation. Courtesy of Archaeological Resource Services.

The 1985-1986 excavations at the Market Street Chinatown site were conducted by Archaeological Resource Service, Inc., an archaeological consulting firm. This was one of 36 features found at the site. In their field report, the archaeologists wrote, “A total of 50 bags of soil were removed from this feature. The feature was lined in redwood [and] four major strata were observed. – The soil was extremely organic, contained myriad fish bones, and smelled very strongly. A jade ornament was found at the northeast corner of the filled pit.”

Ezra Erb, project research assistant, helping to move the collection into the Stanford Archaeology Center laboratory

To prepare the collection for cataloging and analysis, curation staff at History San Jose first transferred the artifacts to new, clean boxes to protect the materials during transit. On November 5, 2002, about one fifth of the collection (96 boxes) were moved to the Stanford Archaeology Center laboratory. During November and December, Research Assistants Gina Michaels and Ezra Erb inspected the contents of each box to identify any artifacts that needed immediate conservation treatment, and to set priorities for cataloging and analysis.

Artifact of the Week

Ceramic sherd. Field Catalog # 85-31/0/25.

The logo we chose for this website – a Chinese symbol that means “Double Happiness” – is from this artifact. This ceramic sherd is from a porcelain rice bowl that was manufactured in China and shipped to California for sale to Chinese immigrants. The “Double Happiness” decoration was very popular, and examples of this type of ceramic have been found in 19th century Chinese overseas sites throughout California. In the 1870s, a bowl like this one probably could have been purchased for about 2 to 5 cents.


The Market Street Chinatown as it appeared ca. 1880. Photograph by Andrew P. Hill. History San José collections.

Welcome to the web site for the Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project, a research and education program developed to catalog, analyze, report, and curate a remarkable collection of artifacts that were excavated in 1985-1988. Once located at the intersections of Market and San Fernando Streets in downtown San José, California, the Market Street Chinatown was founded in the 1860s and occupied until it was burned in an arson fire in 1887. A century later, the site of the Market Street Chinatown was chosen for urban redevelopment, including the construction of the Fairmont Hotel and the Silicon Valley Financial Center. The City of San José Redevelopment Agency contracted Archaeological Resource Service to monitor construction activities and conduct excavations at the site. After preliminary analysis, the artifacts from the site were boxed and put in storage at a warehouse that was inaccessible to researchers and to the public. The primary goal of this project is to catalog and analyze the collection so they can once again be used for research and educational programs.

The material on this website allows you to follow our progress and to access the preliminary data we have collected. Technical Reports and Progress Reports can be accessed through links on the right. Other published articles related to this project are listed in our Project Bibliography. You can post comments, questions, and other ideas by clicking on the “discussion” link at the end of each posting.

To contact us directly, please email Professor Barbara Voss (Principal Investigator).