Heinlenville was one of six San José Chinatowns. Archaeologists from the Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University and local San José historians are working with the Redevelopment Agency, City of San José to unearth selected areas of Heinlenville and early Japantown. The test excavation took place from the 11th to 17th March 2008, and data recovery excavation was conducted from the 14th to 23rd of April 2009. Work continues now back at the ASC lab, as we process artifacts and soil samples recovered from the site.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

View from a Trench: Archaeology Open House

The rest of the crew solemnly avowed that I was the one of the few members who had the intellect and the ability to write a blog entry. Deeply honoured, I agreed to write on the public day we had yesterday. So tonight, after work hours, that is what I am doing. The rest of the crew is at a bar.

Open house photo"The View from a Trench" is kind of a standard title for archaeological papers, but that is all I can offer. I literally went into a trench at 11:00 am at the start of public day and (other than one hasty potty break) did not come out again until 4:00 pm. I have no idea what went on in the other trenches. I have no idea what went on anywhere. For me it was 5 hours of standing in a muddy 30-ft square pit and expounding on my three features to group after group after group. My three features were a robbed-out foundation trench for a Chinese tenement, a wood-lined sewer, and a later trench for a terracotta sewer-pipe.

I talked about the process of exposing feature stains, excavating sections to identify and date them, and I talked about the nature of backyards in the late 19th and early 20th century. I talked about sewer hookups and privies and trash disposal. I talked non-stop for 5 hours. At the end of the day my jaw ached and my lips were numb. I was hungry because I didn't get lunch AT ALL. Did I mention I only got one potty break?

Mark Walker talking about sewers, etc.It sounds bad but it wasn't bad. I really didn't notice that I hadn't had lunch, when normally I start citing union rules and labor law if lunch is called 5 minutes late. I can't speak for the audience but the public day was exciting for the archaeologists. The number of people was far more than we anticipated. Far more. It was gratifying and a bit unexpected to see that level of public interest in the archaeology and in the history of Heinlenville and Nihonmachi. I was near the end of the tour, and people still seemed alert and interested. Given that each tour was about 40 minutes and I was waxing eloquent on the significance of sewer pipes and trash pick-up, the visitors may have just been unusually polite. Or maybe they had used our on-site porta-johns and really understood the utility of a fully functioning sewer line. But I think it was more than that.

bowl fragmentsSewer lines, porcelain bowls and spoons, a discarded reel of movie film—these are all incredibly mundane. But it is because they are so mundane that they have power. Archaeology is not about great events, famous people, and great architecture and art. It is about regular people getting by the best that they can, often under difficult circumstances. These are things with which most people can empathize. The importance of this site lies not only in the decency of John Heinlen, but in the lives the inhabitants of Heinlenville and Nihonmachi managed to create for themselves, even amidst the looming threat of mob violence and legislative repression.

Photo of M. WalkerMark Walker
ASC Archaeologist

Looking for Artifacts – Archaeology Open House

Photo of Visitors screening for artifactsDuring our Open House, I worked at the artifact screening station, where visitors had a chance to try their hand at archaeology. Kids and adults experienced firsthand the process of archaeological excavation as they searched through soil that we had excavated earlier this week. They found artifacts used during the area’s historic-period occupation, including fragments of food bones, tools, dishes, and food storage containers. These artifacts will go back to our ASC lab for analysis, and will help us to tell the stories of the people who used them.

Sandra Massey
ASC Archaeologist