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Hands holding a collection of bones.

Jun 13, 2016

Discovery of the Month: The Lineage of (Really Early) California Cuisine

The Archaeology team's discovery of animal bones reveals how the Presidio's past inhabitants ate.


​Did you know the Presidio Archaeology Lab cares for a collection of more than 500,000 discoveries? This extensive assortment is the result of two decades of research in the Presidio. Join us each month as we uncover unique objects and share the stories they reveal about the park’s past.

June 2016: Cow Bones, or the Remains of Past Presidio Dinners (Est. Spanish Era or Early American Era)

When the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition party set out from Sonora, Mexico to establish the military fort that would come to be the Presidio of San Francisco, they walked overland some 1,200 miles. Along the way, the party resembled a moving town and included 193 men, women, and children. The soldiers and settlers needed to bring everything required to start new lives in a far off place – such as clothes, dishes, and tools. They also brought hundreds of head of cattle.

Those cows and their descendants were a major source of food for generations of people who later lived on the post. The animal bones shown here were discovered by Presidio archaeologists during excavations in the early 2000s, and are from cattle, or cows, that once lived in the Presidio, and descended from the original cattle from the Anza party. Many of the bones discovered are rib bones cut to create different cuts of meat. If you look closely, you can even see the butcher marks.

These remains are a major source of information about the foodways of the past. From fragments of animal bones like these, we can tell what kinds of animals people ate, how they raised those animals, how those animals were butchered, and even how they may have been cooked. They provide a window into the early settlers’ lives, and San Francisco history.

Learn more about Presidio Archaeology >>