Weekly Update

Students Catalog Metals in Lab

My name is Cameron Matthews and I am a junior economics major. I am considering a double major in archaeology and am also on the Stanford baseball team. This past week has been spent learning how to recognize and classify metal artifacts. The metal found in the San Jose Chinatown site has mainly been iron and copper alloys. Iron (pretty obviously) can be identified by the rust corrosion on the object. Rust goes deep into an object and can make it hard to discern what the original object was. Some common ferrous artifacts at the Market Street site are nails, cans, and metal strapping. Nails come in several varieties which follow the chronology of hand-wrought nails, cut nails, and wire nails. Because of this they are very useful in dating a site. Copper, on the other hand, is protected by the green petina that develops on the outside. Common copper or copper alloy artifacts are coins and piping.

Corroded Nails and Other Metals

One of the more interesting features of metal artifacts is how they interact with other objects nearby. Iron rust has the useful property of taking the form of whatever it is next too as it is corroding. A rusty nail in lumber will fill in the cracks in the decaying wood and a random piece of ferrous metal in a trash pile will swallow up a piece of glass it is lying next to as the corrosion grows outward, as we have observed in numerous examples from the Market Street site. Copper and copper alloys also interact with neighboring objects as they corrode. The bright green petina transfers to pieces of charcoal, leather, and clothing if they are in contact. This creates some minor problems figuring out what different objects are as it makes non-metallic artifacts look like copper pieces. Also, copper takes an imprint of whatever it is next to as the petina develops. It’s pretty cool to see weave patterns from clothing imprinted on copper buttons, even though the clothing has long since decayed.

Featured Artifact

Burned Shoe Leather

This weeks artifact of the weeks is mix of different materials that probably went together at one time to make up a shoe. The majority of this artifact is a piece of burned leather. When I first saw the object, I thought it was a piece of bone as I had not seen burned leather before. It is surprisingly light weight and looks a lot like bone with the hard outside and porous inside. You can see the green it has taken on from the contact with the copper nails, one of which is still in a hole in the leather. Another shoe component, a piece of wood, is also stuck to the leather. This is a great piece and the detail is amazing. You can see the holes in the charred leather where it was stitched to another piece of the shoe.

Liz’s Update

Learning how to catalog glass last week

Hi! I’m Liz Clevenger, an M.A. student in the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford. In addition to being a student in this lab methods class, I am working as a research assistant on the Market Street project and am conducting research on one of the features from the Market Street Chinatown for my masters thesis. Although I started background research in the fall, CASA 203 is helping to jump start my actual in-lab artifact analysis for my thesis. I am getting to know the cataloging system and computerized database better, learning how to identify and analyze different materials, and also meeting a variety of people (from archaeologists specializing in historic California archaeology to descendents of San Jose’s 19th century Chinese community) whose insights and ideas are invaluable.

These tiny fish and rodent bones come from the flotation samples

The artifacts I am analyzing for my thesis come from Feature 20 of the 85-31 collection. Because this collection was the focus of the lab methods class last winter, the ceramics from Feature 20 have already been cataloged. In the coming weeks, I’ll be cataloging and analyzing a variety of other types of artifacts, both as a part of lab (glass and metal) and on my own (organic remains like leather and textiles, and small finds such as buttons and coins). Earlier this winter I sent the faunal remains from Feature 20 to specialists who are trained in identifying and analyzing mammal and fish bones. I will also be sending out botanical remains recovered during flotation to another specialist for analysis. Stacey and I spent a cold, wet day up in San Francisco doing flotation on soil samples that had been saved from Feature 20 during the excavation in 1985; in addition to botanicals such as seeds, wood, and charcoal, a number of micro-artifacts like tiny fish vertebrae and small ceramic sherds were recovered from the soil samples.

Featured Artifact

Glass from 85-31 Feature 20

For my class research project, I’m analyzing the ceramics and glass from Feature 20, and my interpretation will focus on the topic of food practices within the Market Street community. Glass bottle fragments — like these finishes and necks pictured — will aid my interpretation of food practices including storage, preparation, presentation, consumption, and discard.

Visiting San Jose

Students In Lab

My name is Erica Simmons, and I am a junior majoring in archaeology. The content of this class is new to me, so I have learned a lot about lab analysis in historical archaeology. The past couple of weeks, we have been analyzing a large and diverse collection of ceramics. It was fun to learn to identify so many different kinds of ceramics, and there are some great artifacts. Next week we will finish up with ceramics and start to study glass. We have also been brainstorming what to study for our research projects this quarter. There have been some really exciting ideas. I am still trying to decide what to research, since there are so many interesting things to learn!

The Class in front of the reconstructed Ng Shing Gung temple

On Saturday we took a class field trip to San Jose to visit the site where Market Street Chinatown was located. It was hard to imagine the community on a space that is so different today. I found it really exciting to be there and to be able to connect all the artifacts we’ve been studying to a specific place. I also got a better sense of the area bordering the Chinatown. Then we went to the reconstructed Ng Shing Gung temple in the San Jose Historical Park. It was beautiful inside, and had some great display items, like a decorated lion’s head for parades. We also visited History San Jose and got a glimpse of their large collection of items from San Jose’s past. I want to thank Anita Kwock and Alida Bray for showing us around History San Jose and the Ng Shing Gung temple. It was a wonderful experience!

Featured Artifact

Artifact of the Week

These three sherds are from an oil lamp. They fit together and are highly burned on the inside. I found this particularly interesting, because it was one of the few ceramic artifacts I saw that was not involved in food storage or consumption. It reminded me that we use objects for a wide range of activities. I had not thought about how people lighted their homes.