The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1991, Volume 37, Number 1
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

by Brad Bartel

Photographs from this article


Between September 1987 and May 1990 San Diego State University (SDSU) excavated a portion of the northern wing of the San Diego Royal Presidio.1 This project represented the fourth excavation at the presidio site (1928-1936: Percy Broell’s survey and excavation under the direction of George Marston during the original park development; 1965-76: SDSU Chapel/South Wing project; 1976-83: Mesa Community College Gateway/West Wing project), and the first systematic excavation of this north area. Figure 1 shows the previous excavation architecture along with the new northern wing project relative to the confines of the presidio in the park.

The San Diego Presidio was selected for research as an excellent example of Spanish colonialism, and as a comparative site for understanding the differences in Spanish mission versus military administrative behaviors in California. It was the first European permanent settlement on what is now the west coast of the United States. Although the Spanish built three other presidios in California (Monterey, San Francisco, Santa Barbara), the San Diego presidio is the only one in California where all of the site can be successfully excavated due to it being on city property with no modern buildings over the site, and all the site protected by soil during the last fifty year’s intentional burial of the ruins.

The site is used not only for our research on the archaeology of colonialism, but for the education of undergraduate and graduate archaeology students from San Diego State University, and public education relative to mandatory fourth-grade curriculum about early San Diego history. Finally, the site is viewed by hundreds of thousands of tourists and residents annually.

1987-1990: North Wing/Officials Quarters

In 1982 a sketch plan of the San Diego presidio was found in the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California. The plan is dated to 1820, and shows the presidio as square shaped, with almost all the buildings adjacent to the exterior walls, except for the commander’s house. Annotations in Spanish point to buildings or areas of specific function. The entire north wing of the presidio is labelled as casa de officiales. The term ‘officials’ houses may refer to the area either as living spaces for the fort officers and their families, non-military personnel, or a combination of the two. Our excavation of the north wing has as a primary objective the understanding of the functioning of this portion of the settlement, along with the overall scientific goal of examining the integration of Spanish colonist and native population.

Excavation Techniques/Field School Approach

All excavation was done by students and personnel from San Diego State University. This was conducted through an archaeological excavation field class which met once a week during the school semester. Along with the excavation personnel, two volunteers from the San Diego History Center were used for preliminary cleaning, sorting, and computer coding of artifacts. This preliminary artifact laboratory work proceeded at the same time as excavation. Concurrent laboratory work allowed the excavation to end without a backlog of artifacts to be coded. The preliminary results of this artifactual coding and analysis was done through a relational database program.

All excavation proceeded with small implements: hand trowels, pick-mattocks, brushes, and dental picks. All artifacts of any distinction were spatially recorded in situ and all soil was screened for the extraction of additional artifacts and microfauna. Through these procedures it is expected that all significant artifactual and ecological data was obtained. Due to the micro-techniques employed at the site, excavation occurred at a rate of approximately 1-2 centimeters per day in each of the excavated units. The units were three by three meters in size so that a maximum amount of architecture could be exposed within the confines of the fenced park area, while allowing for cross-sectional stratigraphic controls.


Due to the placement of our three by three meter excavation squares, no single room of the presidio was completely excavated. Each excavation unit revealed portions of rooms with associated walls, floor areas, and evidence of roofing (Figure 2). In general, the architecture found during excavation represents the period between 1774 adobe construction and the range of use into the 1830s. Stratigraphy for the site shows that the majority of excavated zones represent rubble associated with the deterioration of the presidio walls. Limited evidence was found of possible architectural elements predating the adobe construction (post holes, hearths). The general building technique is the excavation of a foundation trench for each wall, approximately 30 centimeters deep. This trench is filled with alignment cobbles obtained from the San Diego River immediately north and below the site in Mission Valley. Standard sized adobe bricks are used for the walls, courses separated with a thin (1-1.5 cm) layer of clay. Larger exterior walls are sometimes constructed from a combination of adobe bricks and sandstone blocks. Walls are plastered, floors are stamped earth or terra cotta tile. Roof construction is wood support with curved terra cotta tile. No knowledge exists of the degree to which half-timbering is used for walls. The following is a unit by unit discussion of the architectural features uncovered.

Unit I

Within Unit I we had our best example of Presidio architecture. A U-shaped foundation, composed of river cobbles was uncovered. This is an unusual design for a foundation, due to the narrowness of the center space and the seemingly large amount of side wall buttressing adjacent to the U-shape. A moderate number of floor tiles and roofing tiles, along with some plaster was also found within the unit. One other facet making the construction of the foundation unusual is the alternation of rows of large and small cobbles on the horizontal plane, along with only two to three courses of cobbles used for the foundation. The small amount of courses for the cobbles, combined with the extra buttressing through extra row of small cobbles around the primary U-shaped structure, makes for an enigmatic architectural feature. Presently, we believe the structure was used for storage.

Unit II

Unit II is immediately north of Unit I. The evidence indicates that all of Unit II was part of a trash deposit. The soil color and texture is decidedly different from that in other units with adobe rubble. Within the southern wall of Unit II was the northern limit of the U-shaped foundation structure of Unit I. Thus the entire extent of Unit II was some form of alley or open space between structures.

Unit III

The western adobe wall found in Unit III continues through the entire extent of Unit IV. The area of the unit east of this wall represents a continuation of the trash deposit found in Unit II. This is indicated by the characteristic gray-brown soil color. There is the same heavy deposit of all artifact types, including large quantities of animal bone. That this is an in situ deposit of trash is indicated by the articulated skeletal parts of animals found. There appears not to have been any disturbance of the accumulation since the original deposition. To the west of the wall is an in situ collapse of curved roofing tiles.

Unit III appears to be essentially an interior space. The eastern wall of the unit is adjacent to the adobe wall fall found within the extension toward Unit I. The western wall of the unit extending east for approximately 50 centimeters is part of an adobe wall, parallel to the foundation walls within Unit I. This western wall of Unit III continues into Unit IV. The vast majority of Unit III represents interior space. The unit contains much adobe and brick rubble, including moderate quantities of charcoal. This layer may represent some form of tile flooring for the room.

Unit IV

The western adobe wall found in Unit III continues through the entire extent of Unit IV. The area of the unit east of this wall represents a continuation of the trash deposit found in Unit II (Figure 3). This is indicated by the characteristic gray-brown soil color. There is the same heavy deposit of all artifact types, including large quantities of animal bone. This is an in situ deposit of trash, indicated by the articulated skeletal parts of animals found. There appears not to have been any disturbance of the accumulation since the original deposition. To the west of the wall is an in situ collapse of curved roofing tiles. As will be described below, this roofing tile collapse continues to be distributed in Units V and VI. The excavation of the Unit IV extension revealed additional roofing tile collapse, and a clustering of imported ceramic wares. No additional evidence was found pointing to the presence of a doorway in the southwest corner of Unit IV extension.

Unit V

Of great importance is the uncovering of the adobe wall running perpendicular to the two north-south walls in the other units. This west-east wall in Unit V runs along the northern portion of the unit for approximately 2.5 meters. There is no evidence for the wall extending into the northeast corner of the unit. Excavation proceeded slowly within the unit due to the large amount of roof tile debris that needs extensive mapping before removal (Figure 4). Beneath the widespread roof tile collapse was found extensive areas of burn and charcoal, probably indicative of architectural fire. Within the center of the unit, oriented north-south below the foundation of the wall, was found a rectangular tile arrangement of unknown function (Figure 5).

Unit VI

Immediately after the removal of the sod, it was apparent that there was considerable adobe rubble underneath. The rubble was fused together and constituted an irregular fall of wall that may have been in this condition for well over a century. Of great importance was the excavation of a north-south adobe wall running parallel to the wall found in Units III and IV. This wall in Unit VI was in poor condition with only three courses of adobe brick height remaining and only a small portion of its original length preserved. Of special interest is the arch or column foundation found in the middle of the unit, and adjacent to the eastern side of the wall (Figure 6). This foundation is composed of cobblestone overlaid by neatly placed rectangular tiles in the shape of a square (Figure 7). Along the eastern one third of the unit is a large rubble layer of tile and cobblestone, similar to what is known from Units III and IV. Immediately south of the square pattern of tiles existed a stratified set of burn and ash layers. These series of small stratified burn deposits may have been from the earliest Spanish occupation of the hill, before the erection of the adobe structures, or even from the Native American occupation prior to the Spanish. Since no artifacts of any conclusive form were located within the stratified ash and burn deposits, a firm conclusion cannot be drawn at this time.

Unit VII

Unit VII exhibited the greatest potential for new architectural features of any recently excavated area. Almost immediately after the removal of the sod layer, two perpendicular and intersecting adobe walls were uncovered. One wall runs east-west along the southern perimeter of the unit, while the north-south wall runs through the center of the unit. The walls contain a combination of adobe bricks and larger blocks, giving the impression of load-bearing support structures. Surrounding much of the walls are large fragments of plaster, including one in situ rectangular mass. Of greatest interest is a set of stacked tiles, at least five courses high, located in the middle of the unit and adjacent to the north-south wall (Figure 8). This tile stack is of unknown function.

Units VIII and IX

By May 1990, only the modern sod layer and first few centimeters of subsurface deposit had been excavated from these two units. Most of the artifacts obtained were from the twentieth century, and no architectural features were discernable.

Material Culture

The material culture from the nine excavated units is qualitatively large in relation to the amount of excavation done, while being culturally and technologically diverse (Table 1, Figure 9). One preliminary general conclusion is that the range of ceramics and bone, the two largest quantities of material recovered, is much like that excavated from the chapel and gateway areas of the site. This conclusion is based on comparisons between the excavated units and the published analyses of ceramics from the chapel and the faunal remains from the western gateway.2 Another preliminary conclusion is that when all the excavated units are compared for the range and proportions of artifacts, there is a high degree of uniformity in material culture, with the exceptions of selected areas of trash disposal and incompletely excavated units (Figure 10).


Ceramics constitutes the largest amount of material culture recovered from the excavated units. Discounting the thousands of bone and shell fragments, most of which have not been fully counted or analyzed, 32,289 fragments of ceramic, metal, glass, and stone have been recovered from the nine excavated units. Of that total, 28,768 fragments, or 89 percent of the total excavated assemblage are ceramic. Table 2 and Figures 11-13 show the distribution of principal ceramic types by unit. One can first make a distinction between the locally made utilitarian wares (Tizon) used for cooking and as large containers, versus the imported wares used for dining. These imported fine wares range in shape and function from large tureens, bowls and plates of various sizes, through more delicate and smaller cups, lids, and strainers (Figure 14).

The largest quantity of pottery is local Native American ware, labelled Tizon Brown ware in traditional archaeological typology. Approximately 86 percent of the total ceramic assemblage is Tizon Brown ware. This material ranges from brown-gray to brown-red in color, without decoration, and usually much thicker than the other ceramics types found at the Presidio. Based on reconstruction, forms and evidence of contact with heat, the pottery appears to have been used for storage and cooking. Some fragments (26) have exterior basket impressed designs.

The second largest assemblage of ceramic is the range of British creamwares and pearlwares manufactured in the period 1760-1850. This range includes the polychrome, shell-edge and transfer print decorated pearlwares, and the light colored, mocha, and transfer print decorated creamwares. Certain morphological types have a green, yellow, or blue fluted pattern along the rim, while another form of creamware has yellow and blue floral painted decoration on the exterior. One fragment of olive green Wedgwood with raised ivory colored molded patterning was also uncovered. This entire British grouping presently constitutes approximately 6 percent of the total ceramic assemblage, and 43 percent of the imported wares. Of special interest is one base fragment with a potting stamp from Copeland and Garrett of Stoke, Staffordshire, England. This stamp was used in pottery from this manufacturer beginning in 1833. It is the only potter’s stamp fragment found within the northern wing of the Presidio and dates from the last decade of occupation at the site.

A large quantity of Galera and Majolica tin-glazed Mexican wares was also found distributed throughout each of the units. These forms constitute approximately 4 percent of the total ceramic assemblage and 30% of the non-Tizon ceramic assemblage. Blue, yellow, and green banded Majolica have been uncovered.

The fourth largest category of pottery comes from China. These forms are usually well-made porcelain, with underglaze cobalt blue and copper red decoration, overglaze enamel decoration, overglaze enamel and gilt decoration, or a combination of the three above. Manufactured in the period of 1770-1810, these wares constitute 2 percent of the total ceramic assemblage so far excavated, and 17 percent of the imports.

The distribution by country of origin, including percentages of each found within the excavated units is similar to that found at the chapel site of the Presidio. That this seemingly domestic or secular area of the Presidio has a similar pattern to that of a religious area is of great interest. Previous experience in excavation of Roman forts by the principal investigator indicates that the more secular zones of a fort should normally have an artifact pattern significantly different from that of an associated religious area. The pattern of ceramics uncovered within the northern wing aids in validation of the comments made by Krase 3 in her master’s thesis about the role of maritime trade in supplying the Presidio occupants.

The fragmentary nature of the recovered ceramics makes a complete picture of the range of ceramic shapes impossible. But certain characteristics are known:

1. The Tizon Brown ware is thicker than the other wares, and in most cases for larger bowl shapes used in cooking and storage.

2. The imported fine wares from England, and China are smaller bowls and plates, but also include such items as tea strainers and lids.

3. The vast majority of ceramic fragments recovered are body sherds. The percentage of rim and base fragments is unusually low relative to the body sherd percentage.

4. The only non-food related artifact made of ceramic was a pipe stem of kaolin clay material found in Unit IV.

Spatial Distribution of Ceramics

The spatial distribution of ceramics across the Presidio represents an important source of information for the determination of the functions of certain areas or rooms. Tizon Brown ware is the most prevalent ceramic form recovered in all excavated units, suggesting that cooking and storage may have been done nearby to this excavated area. There is no firm evidence currently to support the conclusion that the excavated areas represent food preparation or consumption areas of the fort. The best evidence for food preparation comes from Unit III where a charcoal depression in a basin shape may denote a resting spot for a food preparation bowl. Units I and VII have the highest percentage of imported fine wares relative to Tizon of any of the nine units. This high proportion of fine wares may indicate a food consumption area located in the front zones facing the center of the fort. Food discarding is represented within the excavated trash deposit in Unit II and IV.

Of the nine units, Unit II has the greatest number of ceramic fragments (9,382), with the adjacent Unit III having 7,770 fragments, and Unit IV with 6,606. This large amount from these three units is unexpected, considering location in what appears to be the front zone of a series of rooms and adjacent trash disposal.

Within the units presently being excavated, there is no mathematically significant pattern of different imported ceramic forms.


Objects of metal constitute the third largest category of recovered material by number of fragments. Approximately 3 percent (1015 fragments) of the total artifact assemblage is of various metals. Like ceramics, metal artifacts, especially personal adornment items (pins, rings) are important to our objectives because they tend to be most illustrative of ethnicity patterning.

There is a diverse range of metal types present in this portion of the Presidio (Table 3). Some of the recovered fragments are clearly parts of the site architecture (nails, clamps), while others are metal implements (shafts, blades, bullet casings), and the final category are metal items of personal adornment (buttons, finger rings) (Figure 15). Of special interest was finding what appears to be a rosary charm dedicated to Saint Demetrius in Unit VII (Figure 16). The range of raw material to produce the metal objects is equally diverse, with objects of iron, silver, lead, copper, and bronze recovered from the nine excavated units. Slag constitutes the second greatest amount of metal material excavated. No additional evidence of metallurgical production in the way of implements (e.g. tongs, weights), containers (crucibles), or features (furnaces) were found. Much of the slag appears from preliminary examination to be lead, possibly for the production of musket balls.

Unit IV has the most artifacts of metal (261). However, out of the total of 261 metal artifacts collected from Unit IV, only 61 could be identified as to function. Most of the metal objects were so fragmentary and small in size that no identification by type could be accomplished. The largest category of metal objects within Unit IV was iron slag (33), followed by nails (9), and Phoenix buttons (5).

Unit III had the second largest assemblage of metal artifacts (163), but with a range greater than Unit IV. Seventy-one metal artifacts could be labeled by type within this unit. Plates represent the largest grouping (25), followed by nails (13), flat segments (8), and U-shaped segments (7). The other two units being excavated have roughly equal number of metal fragments recovered (Unit V=53; Unit VI=54).


The artifacts of glass constitute the second largest group of recovered artifacts by number from the site (excluding bone and shell). The tendency of glass to fragment into small pieces somewhat skews the amount of glass in the total artifact assemblage. In fact, the 1,994 fragments of glass probably do not represent more than three to four dozen individual glass containers plus some fragments of window glass. Approximately 6 percent of the total assemblage from the site is glass.

Not much can be stated about the glass artifacts at this time. Although some of the glass is 20th century in origin, the majority is earlier. Almost all the glass is from body fragments, with very few rims or bases recovered (Figure 17). Within all of the excavated units clear glass is the most common, followed by green and then brown colors. A small amount of blue-green glass and blue glass was also found. All the recovered fragments are too small to give any indication of the morphology of the glass containers. No reconstruction of shapes is possible at this time. Of equal importance to the glass for containers are the fragments (22) of window glass found. It is probable that any complete panes of window glass would have been removed at the time of abandonment to be used in the new houses constructed in Old Town.

The glass assemblage frequency by unit ranges from a low of 3.3 percent (as a percentage of the total artifact assemblage by unit) in Unit III, to a high of 18.1 percent in Unit VI. Units V and VI have a different pattern of glass within the unit than the other four units of the northern wing. This large amount of glass found within Units V and VI may indicate a different function for these two rooms.


A total of 182 stone artifacts had been recovered by the end of excavation in the spring. This amount constitutes only 1 percent of the total artifact assemblage yet found at the Presidio. Stone artifact frequency at fort sites tend to be small, so this low percentage is not unexpected. The stone artifacts recovered tend to support the conclusion of an integrated Spanish and Native American presence at the site.

Stone Types

The stone artifacts fall into three categories: 1) tools and containers (portions of bowls, grinding slabs, stone grinding cobbles) for the preparation of some material, probably food, 2) stone artifacts for use with firearms (expended flints), and 3) stone beads. Of special interest was the uncovering of a large metate foot used as foundation packing for an adobe wall in Unit III. Several other stones were also collected that may be portions of grinding platforms. The largest amount of stone fragments need to be grouped as unknown flaked waste pieces from manufacture (Figure 18), as opposed to distinct flaked tools used as points or scrapers.

The category of stone material for grinding, either in the form of platforms or bowls constitutes a large proportion of stone artifacts. The bowl fragments appear to be of Native American manufacture, and are comparable to those fragments known from local and purely Native American sites within San Diego County. They are made of steatite, and of local origin. Most of the flints do not seem to be of local origin, but possibly imported from Europe. Stone artifacts are not uniformly distributed throughout the excavated units. The greatest clustering of stone artifacts as a percentage of the total unit artifact assemblage are seen in Units IV and V. Most of the bowl fragments are from the trash deposit within Unit IV, while most of the gun flints were recovered from Units III and IV.

Miscellaneous Artifacts

These class of artifacts represents modern fragments (330) of objects found mostly within the sod layer of each unit. These fragments are primarily plastic, including toys (wheels), cups, and beads. They tend to date from the mid 1930s to the present.

Bone Tools

Two bone tools, an awl and an incised fragment, were recovered at the site in Unit IV. One bone handle, probably for an eating utensil was found in Unit IV extension (Figure 19). Other fragments of bone already collected from the site appear to have been shaped for tool use, but must be thoroughly analyzed microscopically to determine whether they are bone tools.


The bone recovered from the excavated units falls into three categories: 1) discarded bone that was the end product of food consumption, 2) microfauna that represents animals that lived and died on the site but were probably not consumed by the individuals of the Presidio, and 3) bone modified into tools, discussed above.

Faunal Remains as Food By-Products

There are thousands of animal bones recovered at the site that are part of this category (Tables 4-5). Two graduate students have coded over 4,000 fragments of the bone from Unit II. From a cursory inspection of the bone recovered within the excavated units, it is apparent that the vast majority of bone is from immature cattle, usually under two years of age at the time of slaughter (Figure 20). This pattern of butchering was already documented for the gateway area of the Presidio. The distribution of these taxa relative to age of death, sex, body part distribution, butchering techniques, minimum number of animals per species relative to human population that they could support, and any pathologies must await the detailed faunal analysis. However, based on the analysis of bone from Unit II, it is apparent that most bone parts found at the site are rib and long bone fragments, a distribution consistent with medium to large mammal use for food. Another conclusion that can be drawn from the analysis of bone from Unit II is that identifiable bone by taxon indicates that in most cases we are dealing with only 1-3 animals of a given species in the trash midden (Table 4).

Various rodent remains have been found at the site, including mouse, squirrel, and rabbit. Many of these taxa were probably part of the ecosystem of the hill, rather than intentionally exploited animals. Only the faunal analysis will make for positive identification of the relationship between the microfauna and the food consumption practices.

Another category of microfauna is represented by small fish bones. Details concerning the species of fish represented at the site will await future analysis. The fish remains are of particular interest, since the amount of shell found at the site appears to be considerable, and we want to gauge the total amount of maritime resources used at the Presidio. Presently, the cattle remains uncovered tend to skew perception towards large scale meat consumption in the diet. The accurate estimate of maritime consumption will give a more balanced perspective. The shell will be discussed below.


A large quantity of shell was recovered from all the excavated units, but especially the trash deposit in Unit IV. The shell is primarily forms of clam, but there is also a large amount of abalone. In one case, an intentionally pierced cowrie shell was uncovered.

The shell material seems to have been associated with three distinct functions: 1)grinding of the shell for the production of plaster, 2) as a by-product of mollusk consumption, and 3) ornamental, as evidenced by the pierced cowrie.

Public Education

The educational goals of the presidio project include informing all sectors of San Diego about the program, and to acquaint the populace of the importance of modern archaeology in understanding early San Diego history. Of equal educational importance is the training of the next generations of southern California archaeologists through a field school approach to the excavation.

As important as the scientific goals are to the project, the researchers recognized from the inception that the role of public education would be equal in importance to the overall success of the project. Unlike the previous presidio archaeological projects, this new excavation was designed to serve the educational needs of the university, supplement existing programs offered for the elementary schools and the San Diego History Center through the Serra Museum, and informally educate the residents of the city and the large numbers of tourists who visit San Diego.

University Educational Goals

One failure of past excavations at the San Diego Presidio was the large scale use of volunteer labor. Volunteers possess different educational backgrounds, archaeological skills, and vary widely as to a commitment to the project. Unpredictability of volunteer personnel work habits, along with variation in education does not aid the logistical factors involved with excavation planning and coordination. The variable nature of educational background, would of necessity skew or make for a greater excavation error factor than using a team with a more homogeneous educational background.

All of the excavators for the new presidio project are undergraduate anthropology majors at San Diego State University. This was done to insure quality and predictability of attendance for the excavation crew. All undergraduates are required to have taken two anthropology courses prior to enrollment in the field excavation course: an introduction to anthropology and a course in the theory of archaeology. Thus it is assumed that the students who are excavating have a body of knowledge about archaeological research design and hypothesis testing, anthropological concepts of ethnicity and acculturation, and archaeological concepts of primary and secondary deposition, artifact movement, and aspects of material culture.

Along with the education of this undergraduate population, the project is designed to train qualified anthropology graduate students in the direction of archaeological projects. Each semester, graduate students who are close to completion of their masters’ degrees become assistant site directors and are trained in all of the aspects of excavation direction including personnel management, accountability to city government and the San Diego Historical Society, and the direct supervision of the on-going excavation of units.

Education for Elementary School Children and Teachers

The third category of university students who are trained through the excavation of the Presidio falls outside of the anthropology department. Working with the School of Teacher Education, we have trained a limited number of graduate students who are high school teachers on how to develop a teacher training manual about archaeology.

The graduate students from the School of Teacher Education are first instructed in the various principles of modern anthropological archaeology, historical archaeology, and observe the excavations in progress at the Presidio. They then evaluate other attempts at instructing elementary age school children about archaeology, most notably the various curriculum guides published out of the British Museum and the Council for British Archaeology. Their purpose is twofold: the education of the fourth grade teachers in archaeological principles through the publication of a teacher training manual along with the proper questions posed about archaeology, and the education of the fourth grade school children at the suitable intellectual level. In addition, the education graduate students have organized artifact loaner kits to aid the presentations in the classroom, and constructed sand box excavation simulations for the students to actually dig and understand stratigraphic principles.

It is with this category of education graduate student that the project begins to interface with the public, and where ultimately the educational content reaches thousands of individuals. Within the various school districts found in San Diego County, archaeology or anthropology is not a part of the standing curriculum from kindergarten through the senior year of high school. The only time and place where it is presently feasible to attempt an injection of archaeology into the curriculum is in the fourth grade classes. All fourth grade children in the San Diego Unified School District complete a module on early San Diego history, starting with the European contact period for the indigenous Native Americans, and ending with the New Town Era. Over 11,000 fourth graders annually make the field trip to Old Town, the Serra Museum, and the presidio site. The educational program devised by the San Diego City Schools Old Town Cultural/Historical Program allows students to work as teams and role play and solve problems through being a local Native American and a Spanish colonial soldier. No detailed archaeological treatment is given within this program. The Role of the San Diego History Center

For many years the San Diego History Center’s Presidio Docents have been conducting the Fourth Grade Classroom Enrichment Program. This program is provided to fourth graders representing other school districts within San Diego County as well as private and parochial schools. It is organized to offer students opportunities to learn about our city’s early settlers and culture. These students, like the fourth graders of the Old Town Cultural/Historical Program, practice visual and critical thinking skills through role-playing, handling artifacts and learning the importance of archaeology.

Both groups use the “archaeology treasure box” which contains tools used by archaeologists and detailed photos of archaeologists digging at the site. Both groups visit the excavation site during weekdays when excavation is not being conducted, thus allowing students to see exposed architectural features of the Presidio.

Tourism and San Diego Residents

Since most observers at the site are from California, they have some notions or information about early Spanish history within the state, no matter how naive or biased. Our lectures are geared to 1) a brief discussion of what we know about Spanish colonial strategy in California, 2) historical information about Spanish-Native American interaction, 3) overall scope of the archaeological project including past excavations, preservation of the site during the 1930s, modern excavation techniques, and exhibition of artifacts. If children are in attendance, some time is exclusively devoted to talking with them about archaeology, allowing then to touch artifacts, and answering their questions. When visitors are from outside of California, the lectures are adjusted to account for the differences in the archaeological record in California versus other parts of the United States (e.g. shorter European time depth in California, local hunter-gatherer Native Americans). When foreign visitors are observing, comparisons are made between forms of colonialism known from their region of the world, as well as differences in excavation techniques used in the United States versus elsewhere. Although these repetitive mini-lectures of approximately ten minutes each are taxing on the individuals who do them, they are felt to be vital to the overall educational success of the project.

Conclusions About Public Education

The San Diego State University presidio project represents a departure from previous archaeological investigation in southern California. It is the first excavation with planned and integrated educational components ranging from the various sectors of the lay public, school children, elementary and high school teachers, through undergraduate and graduate students. The education of these different groups is handled through structured and semi-structured instruments, including lectures, examinations, direct supervision, docent training, community involvement, and regional publicity. The scientific goals of the excavation are always evaluated in relation to the educational goals.

We find the use of archaeology with history in the current public school curriculum needs to be expanded. This fourth grade `window’ is our hope to get more archaeology taught in the local school systems. The fourth grader’s education is reinforced by their ability to see the site being excavated, see and touch artifacts, and actually `do’ archaeology through the sand box simulation. The education of the fourth grade teachers is primarily done so they realize that archaeological information is not difficult to acquire, understand, or convey to students; and that proper historical interpretation often requires archaeology. The educational effort is reinforced by our teaching adults who visit the site with their children so that they may ultimately teach their children about proper respect for our cultural heritage.

Summary and General Observations

After three seasons of excavation, our preliminary conclusions about the presidio northern wing and associated material culture may be outlined as follows:

1. No architectural or artifactual evidence presently uncovered warrants against the operational hypothesis that the area may have been used for officers’ quarters. The quality and diversity of material culture found in the area adds some weight of evidence to support this conclusion.

2. That the proportion of artifacts of different classes (ceramic, stone, bone, glass, metal) are similar to that known from the chapel excavation.

3. There appears to be a pattern of trash disposal, possibly reflective of ethnicity, immediately adjacent to, and toward the area of dwelling and work buildings within this wing of the Presidio.


The presidio site is used as an archaeological research project and a cultural anthropology laboratory to access the cultural biases of the regional multi-ethnic population and attempt to convey modern archaeological principles and objective information about colonialism. Our educational strategy tries to correct past problems of communication between professional archaeologists and the general community.



1. The 1987-1990 excavations were under the direction of Dr. Brad Bartel, San Diego State University, and supported by grants from Las Patronas and Crow-Hazard Associates. During all of the field seasons, Mr. G. Macmillan Davis, M.A., Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University served as the Associate Director. Mr. James Eighmey and Ms. Danielle Page, M.A. candidates, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University served as Assistant Directors during various stages of the project. Ms. Jan Collins and Ms. Elizabeth How of the San Diego History Center served as laboratory assistants.

We would like to express our thanks to Dr. Ronald Himes, past Chair, Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Marilyn Boxer, past Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at San Diego State University for their support. We would also like to thank Mr. James Vaughan, Executive Director, San Diego Historical Society, and Ms. Eleanor Neely, Curator, Serra Museum. Finally, our deepest gratitude goes to Col. John Ellis, Chair, Presidio Interpretation Committee of the San Diego History Center. His single-handed and tireless devotion to the Presidio over three decades is an example to all of us of the love of history and archaeology.

2. Dayle Cheever, “An Historical Faunal Analysis: Large Mammal Utilization at the San Diego Presidio” (M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, 1983). Jean Krase, “The Old World Ceramic Sherds from San Diego’s Presidio: A Qualitative, Quantitative, and Historical Analysis” (M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, 1979).

3. Jean Krase, “Old World Ceramic Sherds”, 1979.

Brad Bartel received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Missouri in 1974. He has conducted archaeological research in Turkey, Ireland, Yugoslavia, and California. His research interests include colonialism, ethnicity, and mortuary practices. Currently, he is the Associate Dean of the Graduate Division and Professor of Anthropology at San Diego State University.