Bay Area archaeologists dig deep to uncover San Francisco's hidden history

ByChris Bollini Localish logo
Monday, October 10, 2022
Bay Area archaeologists uncover San Francisco's hidden history
Archaeologists uncover clues about the Spanish, Mexican, and American occupations of El Presidio de San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bay Area archaeologists are uncovering San Francisco's hidden past at the largest public archaeological excavation west of the Mississippi.

With the popularity of Indiana Jones, everyone has become familiar with the idea of archaeology, but beneath the surface, archaeology has quite a bit more to offer.

"The biggest misconceptions people have about archaeology is that we are looking for treasures or gems or gold," archaeologist Kari Jones shares. "Archaeologists are looking for evidence or remains of people. We don't dig dinosaurs."

"What we are looking at is the daily lives of people, what they ate, what they wore, what their living conditions were," archaeologist specialist Georgie Deantoni adds. "People really get excited to understand that we're telling stories of people from 200 years ago."

An even more interesting fact involves where their stories originate from.

"When they think about archaeology, they think about Europe, they think about Egypt. People don't even know that there is archaeology in the United States. Let alone San Francisco," Jones declares.

San Francisco has a hidden past that lies untouched under the grounds of San Francisco's Presidio, best known as the longest, continuous, running army post in the United States.

"We often think about San Francisco beginning with the gold rush, but I'm here to show people that there was San Francisco long before the gold rush," Jones explains.

El Presidio de San Francisco can reveal a lot about San Francisco's past. Sitting by the main dig site, Jones discusses the area's history.

"The place that we are now was first 'Yelamu' so that's the Ramaytush Ohlone name for this place, and then, the Spanish came up to colonize," Jones reveals. "It became Spain, and then it was transferred to Mexico and then, it became a US army post in the 1840s."

The archaeological site of El Presidio was first discovered in 1994.

"As the US army was leaving, they were removing an underground storage tank and they discovered foundations of Spanish colonial buildings," Jones says.

In 2014, the Presidio Trust was founded and began the long-term, slow, public excavation of El Presidio de San Francisco, the largest public archaeological project west of the Mississippi.

"Most of what we find are remains of the buildings, of the fort, and then the trash that people left behind from the fort," Jones states.

"So, we can look at people's trash and understand a lot about their daily life," Deantoni adds.

"That's the gold, that's the treasure we want to find is trash pits," archaeologist specialist Edward De Haro says with a smile.

Excavation of the site runs for 6 months of every year. Artifacts collected there find their way to a state of the art archaeology lab on site where they are photographed, labeled, documented, and stored for future researchers.

"We estimate that only 2-3 percent of the site has been excavated," Jones shares. "There's a lot of stories to tell in the Presidio. We are going to keep telling them for many, many years in the future."

Anyone is welcome to visit or volunteer to help with the process.

For more information, visit here.

To learn more about the Presidio's International Archaeology Day, go here.