Background

In 1987, an archaeological excavation took place in downtown San Luis
Obispo, California. The excavation was part of the construction of a new
downtown parking garage, located in the heart of the old 1870's
Chinatown. The excavation uncovered features and artifacts from both the
Mission (1820's) and Chinese (1870's) periods. Approximately 5 tons of
artifacts were recovered.

The Project

In 1997, the City of San Luis Obispo enlisted the help of archaeologist Dr.
John Parker and a decision was made to allow the public to have a major
hand in sorting and cataloging the collection.

Parker & Associates Archaeological Research took on this project
primarily because Dr. Parker saw it as a way of increasing public
awareness in local history and archaeology.  Parker had spent 20 years
conducting volunteer public awareness and interpretation programs in
archaeology, mostly for the State Park System.

A Public/Private Partnership

The City of San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly, and Archaeological Research formed
a partnership to undertake the Chinatown Archaeological Research
Project. The San Luis Obispo County Archaeological Society and the City's
Cultural Heritage Commission helped get the project off the ground.

Cal Poly provided a lab facility during the first few years and the City
provided funds for startup, coordination, and limited analysis. Parker &
Associates Archaeological Research provided training and technical
specialists to run the project. But the most important part of the
partnership were the volunteers.

Between 1997 and 2007 about 250 volunteers worked on the project.  An
average of 300 volunteer hours a month were devoted to sorting, piecing
together, and studying the tons of artifacts.

Although the volunteers came from all backgrounds and interests, the one
thing that seemed to bind them all together was a keen interest in local
history and a fascination with archaeology.

Technical Directors

The technical direction is being driven by 5 experts:

Roberta Greenwood (Pacific Palisades) is a specialist in Chinese
archaeological materials.

Sherri Gust (Pasadena) is a specialist in studying archaeological bone
remains. She is being assisted by Ken Gobalet at Cal State Bakersfield.

Dr. Robert Hoover (San Luis Obispo) is a specialist in Mission period
archaeology.

Dr. John Parker (Lucerne) is a specialist in historic and prehistoric
archaeology and serves as the project coordinator.

Conclusion

In addition to breaking new ground in the area of public participation,
this archaeology project is filling in the many blank pages in San Luis
Obispo's history. Due to prejudice and bigotry in the late 1800's, the many
civic and economic accomplishments of the Chinese community were
completely left out of local and regional history books. Finally, 100 years
later, these accomplishments are coming to light and being appreciated.
Site maintained as a public service by Archaeological Research, PO Box 1353, Lucerne, CA 95458.
Contact: dr.john@wolfcreekarcheology.com
The Chinatown Project
History and Prehistory of Lake County
and Beyond
Stoneware
Wu Bowls
Adornment
Opium Use
Historic Features
1987 excavation at the Palm Street block
Aerial shot of 1987 excavation.
The Cal Poly archaeology lab in full swing
Cal Poly San Luis Obsipo allows the project to transform an old poultry lab into an archaeology lab
Dr. Parker sorts and pieces together Chinese stoneware
Dr. Parker trains and assists volunteers clean artifacts
The sorting table for Chinese Four Seasons dinnerware
Click here for a detailed outline of 17 years of lab and public
awareness work that has gone into this project.