Examining the Collection

The first order of business was to sort through the cargo container and make sure
that all the bags were properly labeled and all material from each historic feature was
together in one place.

Bringing Materials into the Lab

The next step was to bring the sacks from a few features into the lab.  Then the sacks
were ordered and placed on bookshelves next to sorting tables.  A group of volunteers
worked at each table under the direction of a professional archaeologist.
Site maintained as a public service by Archaeological Research, PO Box 1353, Lucerne, CA 95458.
Contact: dr.john@wolfcreekarcheology.com
The San Luis Obispo Chinatown Lab Methods
History and Prehistory of Lake County
and Beyond
Wu Bowls
Opium Use
Historic Features
Aerial shot of excavation showing stone adobe foundations and dark soil Chinese refuse pits.
Making Sense of Field Notes

The collection included several hundred pages of field notes and drawings as well as
many photos and slides.  These needed to be put in order according to the feature
being excavated and grid location at the site.  

Creating an Overview Map of the Excavation

A computer digitizing program was used to translate the hand-drawings into a digital
map of each feature.  The feature maps were combined to create an overall excavation
map.  This finished map was superimposed over the early Sanborn Insurance Company
maps of the block with the hopes that some of the structures on those maps might
match the excavated features.
Dr. Parker inspects 5 tons of artifacts packed into a 40-foot cargo container
Sacks of artifacts from a single feature are staged on bookshelves next to a sorting table.
Dr. Parker trains volunteers in artifact washing.
Volunteers sort through the artifacts
Individual field drawings are digitized to make an overall site map.
Sorting Table Work

The crew at each sorting table opens the bags and dumps out
materials according to type.  For instance, all the glass.  The glass
is then sorted by color (clear, green, aqua, etc.), by manufacturing
technique (machine made, hand blown, etc.), and by neck or lip
shape.  Whenever possible, pieces that fit together are taped
together.  Care is taken to sort out pieces that may be window glass
or kerosene lamp chimneys.  Once the sorting is complete, the
different categories are bagged and labeled for final double-checking before computer
data entry.

Bone is sorted by general type (bird, fish, mammal, etc.).  Shell is sorted by species.  
Ceramics are sorted by type (stoneware, porcelain, earthenware, etc.), then by vessel
type, then decoration.  Any broken pieces that can be refitted are glued together.  
Metal is sorted by type (iron, steel, brass, copper, etc.), then by function (if known).  

Computer Data Entry and Cataloging

Once basic sorting is complete, each feature of material is staged for computer
input.  At the input table, each bag of sorted items is open, the sorting work is
rechecked, items are counted and weighed to the nearest 100th of a gram, then
entered into the computer.  All materials get a catalog number, however, only those
materials that will be kept are bagged with artifact tags for final curation.


A computer statistics program is used with the catalog to generate frequency graphs
of different materials from each feature.  In addition, statistical analysis of makers
marks, method of production, and other characteristics are used to determine the age
of individual artifacts as well as the age of the feature.  

The final step uses the artifact data to deduce the function of the feature, its period
of use, and the socio-economic status and ethnicity of the people who created it.
Salina Jen and Ellen Weinstein number and label artifacts for curation.
Dr. Parker demonstrates the database program for volunteers.
The sorting table for Chinese Four Seasons dinnerware
The Lab Process