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.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Working with the backhoe

Hi there. I’m the guy who gets to play with a backhoe everyday. Name is Mike Stoyka. I wear many hats. In a lab environment I’m usually looking intently at various bones. Instead I’m out here watching a back hoe dig, and clean up after it with a hoe and shovel. Sounds like hard work you say? ... Yes actually it is, but it is very important work.

First of all there is safety. It is good to have people on staff, who are experienced with this sort of thing. They need to be able to observe the mechanical excavation closely enough to notice changes in soil type, artifact concentrations, or features such as wells, privies or foundations. This responsibility, while desirable (protect the cultural resource, and minimize impact by the machine) must happen without getting your head taken off by the backhoe bucket; or, getting run over by the machine. Or, getting hit by a 2,000 lb. piece of concrete … well, you get the picture. Safety is no accident!

Today we cleared a large area. The rectangle was covered with multiple layers of concrete and asphalt which had already been cut with a saw. The paving materials had to be pulled up and separated into material type for later disposal and ultimately recycling. Below this was a layer 6 to 12 inches thick of imported fill that was bedding for the paving. Immediately below this medium orange/brown fill soil we found the historic-period soils we are interested in, which consist of very compact clay rich soil imbedded with primarily artifacts of Asian origin and rounded gravels. This was a case where sometimes you have to make a decision to make a sacrifice in order to find the features you are interested in. The Historic-period mixed “smear” is not necessarily feature or lot specific. We prefer to find discreet features and deposits so we can be more specific about our studies and conclusions. We went through the upper portion of this soil and fortuitously collected any interesting artifacts that came up.

OK, enough about how. We ended up finding a series of post holes on the 8th street side of the lot. This area would have been the farthest part of the back yard for the residents. We are hoping to figure out whether these posts are from a lot/fence line, or are the footings for a raised structure of some sort. We simply don’t know. I have to work very hard, and diligently direct the back hoe to find interesting features to keep the rest of the crew busy.

Another find was something we were hoping for, and found other examples of last year. The much anticipated redwood sewer lines. Curiously enough we found a little chronology of the sequence for sewage conveyance on the block. We found a ferrous (iron-based) line which is the most recent, a glazed terra cotta (clay) line somewhere in the middle, and the earliest lines which were rectangular and boxed. We were hoping for this because of special studies. This is a sealed richly organic deposit which is literally a direct link to the people who lived and spent time here. We can use flotation to find micro-constituents such as seeds, and we can send samples off to be tested for any parasites the residents may have had in their digestive system. A parasite that can only be found in Asia would be very critical information.

So, I get to make the discoveries, and hopefully save what’s left of the resources. Then I pass them along to my friends and colleagues who will (hopefully) figure them out. We’ll find out more later, and relay the details. For me it’s off to another exposure and more of the same. Who can dig faster, a back hoe or me? I’m not going to say, but I bet I’m a little sorer at the end of the day. Getting to dig the features makes it all worth it though.

Mike Stoyka