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

Thea here, good day to you all.

I want to tell everyone about the tours I gave yesterday during public day.

Naomi, AnnMarie and I were the tour guides and took tour groups around the site. We started them talking to Connie at the temple, because she had some really good pictures and she set the stage for why Chinatown moved to this place. It wasn’t as though they ‘fancied a move’, as Adrian said. It was because they were burned out of their original settlement by racist anti-Chinese riots.

One of the people asked why this German guy Heinlen would go to such lengths to help and protect the Chinese. She said it may be because he was from Ohio and people there were very anti-German. German churches were burned, and Germans experienced prejudice just like the Chinese had. It may have invoked empathy in Heinlen. At risk to himself and his family he leased land to the Chinese and even built a fence to help protect them.

One person on my second or third tour was a man who knew families of people who used to live in the Japantown area. As I was pointing out the historic building that is now a Cuban restaurant, he informed me that it used to be a gambling hall. He said that if you look through the alley, there is still this huge fence behind the back door. Apparently they built that fence so the high rollers couldn’t easily escape without paying their bill, and the fence survives today as a remnant.

At the end of the tour as I focused the group’s attention on the three surviving buildings, I tried to stress the importance of being aware that parts of this historic settlement still exist. It isn’t well known, and most of the community doesn’t pay attention. But the past still echoes through; in the original bricks that poke out of the modern stucco; in the shards of broken ceramics that lie inches under the feet of community.

Exposing the public to the richness of San Jose’s past not only facilitates a vast appreciation among the members of the community that joined us on our tours, but will hopefully trickle through more and more people as the friends that joined us talk about their adventures. This is how parts of the past, many of which have been glossed over by the history books, live on to increase the richness and substance of one of California’s most wonderful cities.

Thea Fuerstenberg
Graduate Student

Reflections on Public Day

Hello, My Dear Friends, we are your bloggers for the evening. We had a busy day in the hot sun and now we are lounging poolside together discussing the festivities of yet another successful public day. Let us share some our thoughts with you...

Carrie: I was one of the hard working people in the trenches. It might come as a surprise, but archaeology is pretty grueling work! It was warm out today and my fingers are still regaining sensation back from troweling for four hours straight. Having said that, seeing the public’s enthusiasm witnessing us in action made all the sunburned necks and farmer’s tans worth while.

Mike: This year more of the open area exposures were in process of being cleared rather than tested. The crew will have to finish about four features a day for the rest of the project.

Anna: As always it was entertaining hearing Adrian give his spiel about ceramics during the tour. He even received a round of applause at the end.

Bryan Much: It is always a humbling experience working on a site while the visitors ask questions about where their ancestors once lived…the intrinsic experience that defines why we are archaeologists.

Sandra: Working the front entrance gate was surprisingly fun, since it gave me the opportunity to find out why our visitors came to the site - about their interests in archaeology, their communities, and the history of their city.

Kate: As the photographer, I had the unique perspective of taking many tours with different groups. I feel that I got to see what the visitors saw – the big picture. I was so proud of my fellow archaeologists who were working so hard in the heat to make sure everyone had a good time and the site was well interpreted.

AnnaMarie: As one of the tour guides, it was amazing to see not only how interested but how invested the public was in what we were doing. Sometimes as archaeologists, we get lost in the science and often forget that without the actual people, archaeology itself would not exist. Archaeology is after all, first and foremost, about people, a fact that sometimes even archaeologists themselves forget.

Elaine-Maryse: As the oral historian I had the opportunity to interview Ed and Moffet, two old-timers that I had interviewed last year. They told great stories from their childhood and reminiscent about their life experiences in the same area that we are now excavating. It brought the cold asphalt alive.

Bryan Mischke: Hello from trench 11; we had a great day figuring out our feature but I’ll let you see all that at a later date…

And with that, we wish you a hearty goodnight – ‘cause we’re beat!

A. Guerrero, C. Reichardt, and K. Erickson;
(Grad students and grad student/photographer)
S. Massey, M. Meyer, B. Much, and B. Mischke;
(staff archaeologists)
E-M Solari (oral historian )
and A. Much (volunteer/wife.)