Mystery Ceramics

Whiteware dish with perforations

In Spring 2011, the student interns cataloged some unusual ceramic artifacts. All three of the ceramic vessels featured here are (so far) unique in the collection. We’ve carefully reviewed our extensive reference library, but we haven’t yet found any sources that would help us classify these specimens. So we are posting pictures of them here in hopes that you might be able to assist us! The first specimen is an oval-shaped British whiteware flat dish with perforations. Could this be a soap dish? Or could the larger central hole suggest that it was originally part of a specialized cooking vessel, like a steamer or strainer?

Porcelaneous rice bowl

The second specimen pictured here is an Asian rice bowl manufactured from porcelaneous stoneware, with a partial glaze on both the interior and the exterior. We have several specimens like this, each with four identical hand-painted squiggly icons. Does this decorative motif have a common name? What does this symbol represent?


Featured Artifact

Eight-sided porcelain cup

Finally, we came across this eight-sided cup made from Asian porcelain, with an overglaze decoration. We have not seen this motif before. Is it a stand of bamboo? palm trees? grasses and flowers? Thanks for any suggestions you might have! You can post comments below or email Barb Voss (

Cataloging the Market Street Collection – Spring 2011

Meghan cataloging a Bamboo bowl.

Hello, my name is Meghan Gewerth, and I am one of the interns currently working on the project. I am a sophomore archaeology student here at Stanford. My interest in archaeology lays in museums and collections, but I have done fieldwork in Chavin de Huantar, Peru and am going to be participating in the Binchester, England field school this summer. I have not had a lot of experience in historical archaeology, but have enjoyed working with the Market Street collection.

A teapot lid

I began working with a box of miscellaneous objects – those that had been removed from their original boxes and sorted by the original archaeologists. I ended up working with ceramics from the collection, specifically porcelain tableware from 86-36. These artifacts are important because they are more useful in dating than some of the other artifacts from the collection. I have cataloged a few bamboo bowls, double happiness bowls, four-season decorated bowls, and some exciting teapots and teasets. These include decanters, teapots, teapot lids, and teacups (the ones I’ve been working on are very small teacups)! We found a set of artifacts that we couldn’t identify at first, but then later figured out were lids to teapots. They were unusual in that only part of the underside was glazed, and residue was left on them. We have also come across a few types of decorations that haven’t been encountered yet, something that is always exciting.

Featured Artifact

Our mystery object!

This is a ceramic piece whose function is still unknown. It is a flat oval object with a raised lip around the edge. It also has perforations going through the object and a central hole. What is very unusual about it is that although the two parts clearly mend and are part of the same object, they came from two different features, Feature 5 and Feature 17. Our best guess is that this piece may have been a soap dish or possible a strainer; however, research has not yet unveiled any clues as to the function of this piece.

Public Archaeology at History San Jose

One of the mock excavation units developed by History San Jose for visitors.

This past Sunday, May 15, we participated in a special celebration at History San Jose. This kick-off event for the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Chinese American Museum is the first of several events to come in 2011. Big thanks to all the Stanford students who volunteered at the all-day event!




Stanford PhD student Tim Wilcox helps one of the visitors screen soil for artifacts.

Despite the unseasonal rain, wind, and hail, there were several intrepid young archaeologists who joined us in a mock excavation, including a screening station and artifact reconstruction. Using unprovenienced artifacts from the Market Street Chinatown, visitors were able to re-discover pieces of San Jose’s Chinese immigrant history.



Lion dance by members of the Asian Cultural Dance Troupe, with fan dancers in the background.

The Chinese American Museum was open to visitors with docents from Chinese Historical and Cultural Project. We were also joined by the Asian Cultural Dance Troupe of San Jose who brought historic lion dances and fan dances to life.