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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Romance of Archaeology (or Lack Thereof)

Greetings from Day 7 of the Heinlenville excavation. I’m here to dispel the myth of the glamorous and exciting career of archaeology. There are no bullwhips or subterranean caverns full of snakes and the Ark of the Covenant. Actually, it’s grueling, painful and after seven days straight, you are downright delirious. Seven days of this also causes an inability to string a grammatically correct sentence together, so for that, I apologize.

Our days are spent in the hot, hot sun. The temperature today is somewhere around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. There has been this cruel ice cream truck playing “Do Your Ears Hang Low” every day, right about the time when our bellies are empty, our brains are tired and sweat is dripping from our brows.

We did have some excitement today. A reporter for a local newspaper came and visited our site. Luckily he missed the time when I was in my newest yoga pose – Upper-Facing Archaeologist – which was caught on film for posterity. After impressing my colleagues with my fierce unit flexibility, I stood up and heard quite a few bones crack and pop. The numbness in my fingers has yet to come back and my hands are full of open wounds and blisters.

As you can imagine, archaeology isn’t for the faint of heart. It is hard work, but at the same time, highly rewarding. Our job is to figure out the histories of those individuals who were not fully recognized or accurately portrayed in the written documents of their time. It would be a tragedy if their histories were lost or misinterpreted.

Mr. Heinlen was a pioneer of his time. While his contribution may not have greatly changed the effects of the entire anti-Chinese sentiment in the western United States, he was a positive force in the lives of those individuals who were lucky enough to reside in his community. His humility and courage to do what was right for individuals who were treated unfairly is what drives us to plow through these grueling, hot days. We are here to help continue his work and let Heinlen’s vision be revisited by current and future generations.

Wow, that makes us sound as if we’re superhuman. We’re all very humble people, but at the end of the day, when we get back to our hotel rooms, peel off our dirty clothes and pop open a delicious cold beer, we can sit back and know all of our hard work contributed something significant to the local community.

Karen Reichardt
Graduate Student