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Stanford Archaeologists Unravel 200-Year-Old Mystery


Presidio of San Francisco (June 17, 2005) — Stanford archaeologists are shedding light on an unsolved Presidio mystery: a building fire at what may be the earliest civilian settlement in colonial San Francisco.

The Stanford research team will analyze hundreds of artifacts discovered during last year’s excavation at El Polín Spring in the Presidio. The Presidio Archaeology Lab, where researchers will be at work, is open to the public from Monday, June 20, to Thursday, June 24, from 1 to 4 pm.

The Briones clan, one of San Francisco’s famous founding colonial families, settled at the Presidio around 1815. Juana Briones, who may have lived in the structure, is celebrated as an astute businesswoman and landowner who challenged the conventions of her time. The Stanford research team excavated the Briones residence last summer and was surprised to learn that a fire destroyed the adobe dwelling.

Professor Barbara Voss, who is heading the Stanford team, says while students were sifting through the artifacts related to the Briones dwelling, they uncovered something unexpected.

“We found artifacts that were manufactured in the 1780s, long before the Briones family lived at the Presidio,” she said, adding that, if true, the discovery indicates development of civilian communities in San Francisco decades earlier than historical records have suggested. “This summer, we are going to study ceramic, glass, and metal artifacts to see if there is a larger pattern.”

This is not the only mystery archeologists are trying to unravel. A team of Presidio Trust archeologists is excavating inside the Officers’ Club and suspect that building may be the oldest in San Francisco. Parts of the structure may be 200 years old.

For three summers, the Stanford team has excavated at El Polín Spring in the Presidio, collecting a quarter of a million artifacts. “Now it’s time to study what we’ve found to learn as much as we can about the people who lived and worked there.”

The Presidio Archaeology Lab will be open to the public for drop in visits Monday, June 20, to Thursday, June 23, from 1 to 4 pm. Call (650) 725-6884 to arrange for a group visit.

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Presidio Trust Media Relations

Lisa Petrie

(415) 264-7787