Category Archives: All News

The Big Reveal: Archaeological Mystery Objects

Last week we posted three mystery objects excavated at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, along with polls so you could guess the answers.   Below are the correct identifications of these objects.   How did you do?

Dried ink for calligraphy.  These small containers of dried ink can be wet with a brush, producing a black ink used for writing Japanese or Chinese characters. These objects were excavated from a trash pit associated with the early-twentieth-century occupation of the Presidio site by Japanese Americans.


Bale seal. Bales seals were in use throughout Europe going back to the medieval period to identify the content and quality of parcels, batches of textile, and bales of goods.  This bale seal was excavated from a trash pit associated with the comandante’s residence adjacent to the chapel site.


Dispenser for powdered Tabasco.  Marked with the company brand name on the bottom, this ceramic shaker shaped like a chili pepper was used to dispense a powdered form of the spicy condiment.  Tabasco brand products have been manufactured by the McIlhenny Company in Avery Island, Louisianna since 1868. Still in use in some areas of the Southern  United States, powdered Tabasco is not readily available on the market today, and this ceramic shaker is extremely rare.

Digitizing the Past: the Delfina de la Guerra Collection

By Katherine Lowe

When processing a new collection, one of the fun things is thinking about ways to share the collection.  Thanks to constantly evolving technology, there are so many new and interesting ways to share historical collections with a much wider audience. Researchers can now search and browse millions of photos and letters from the comfort of home. Here at the Presidio Research Center, we are working on digitizing a portion of items from Delfina de la Guerra’s personal papers. This important collection detailing a portion of Santa Barbara’s history will be available for viewing on the website. This blog series will give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at this process.

There is no substitute for seeing a letter or photograph in person to get a true sense of the scope of its historical value, but digitization offers us a close approximation. One of the most rewarding aspects of processing and researching historical material is viewing it up close and noticing the details that make it truly unique, such as the way the ink on a letter has faded or how the nature of handwritten letters has evolved over time. Our goal with this digitization project is to translate that feeling into a digital setting.

After selecting a portion of the materials for the digitization project, the scanning stage is next. The most important thing is for us to get a clear image that is as close to the original as possible.

Wearing gloves while scanning helps us to not introduce any damage or fingerprints. Photo by Anne Petersen

One of the advantages of digitization is the ability to zoom in for a closer view, so resolution of the scanned image is very important. For example, consider this photograph of an unidentified woman.

The following set shows what happens when you zoom in on a portion of this photograph that has a lower resolution (left) versus something that has been scanned with a higher resolution (right). The image on the left is more blurry, while the image on the right has more detail.

In the next blog post, we will discuss historical research as it relates to digitizing this collection.

Katherine Lowe is a volunteer at the Presidio Research Center. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the hidden treasures lurking in archives.

What is it?: Day 3

Celebrate Archaeology Month and the 50th Anniversary of archaeological excavations at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park this Thursday October 13 with a lecture by archaeologists Bob Hoover and Mike Imwalle at the Presidio Chapel, 7:00pm.

Here’s your final Mystery Object, excavated at the Santa Barbara Presidio.  Can you guess what it is?  Take our poll and compare your answers with others!

Answers will be revealed during the lecture.  If you can’t make it, check the blog next week.  We’ll post the answers here too!

What is it?: Day 2

In honor of Archaeology Month, and the 50th anniversary of archaeological excavations at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, we present Day 2 of our “What is it?” challenge.  Can you guess the identity of the object below?  Take our poll, and compare your guess with others!

Answers will be revealed during a lecture by Bob Hover and Mike Imwalle on the history of Archaeological excavations at the Presidio this Thursday at 7:00 pm in the Chapel.

See you there!

We are Celebrating 50 Years of Archaeology at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park!

2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the first archaeological excavations at the Santa Barbara Presidio.  This Thursday at 7:00pm in the Presidio Chapel, Bob Hoover and Mike Imwalle, two archaeologists with decades of combined experience in the field, will be presenting an illustrated lecture on excavations at the Presidio.  To help gear up for what promises to be an informative lecture by our favorite experts, we are doing a special series on the blog.  For the next three days we will be presenting mystery objects excavated on the Presidio site.  Can you guess what they are?  All will be revealed when Mike Imwalle announces the answers at the end of the lecture on Thursday.

Here’s your first mystery object(s):  have fun!

Once You Dig It Up, What Happens to It?

By Tacy Kennedy

Tacy Kennedy with her mosaic vase, a parting gift from the 2011 Field School students.

This is a great question, and after serving as 2011 Archaeology Field School Lab Director I can give you the answer!

I have had the good fortune to be a part of the Presidio Archaeological Field School for the past two years, first as a student and then this year as the Archaeology Lab Director. After my field school I volunteered at the Presidio and learned the system used for cataloging artifacts. This later led to the opportunity to serve as lab director this summer.

Field school students excavating near the Presidio's outer defense wall. Photo by Tacy Kennedy.

During the field school, students split their time between learning excavation techniques and processing finds in the lab. The first thing that the students do in the lab is sort the artifacts by size (> or < 1/2”) and by type.

The artifacts are then counted and weighed and those measurements are recorded on inventory sheets. Most of the items fall into general categories that have been previously observed by archaeologists at the Presidio. Common artifacts are roof and floor tiles, nails, bottle glass, and various types of pottery known to have been used at this site during both the Spanish period and during later occupation.

A sampling of the objects excavated by the 2011 field school. Photo by Tacy Kennedy.

Once the sorting and recording of the artifacts has been completed, the artifacts are bagged and given to me, the lab director, along with the inventory sheets, to be entered into the official catalog on the computer. It is my job to look at each artifact or group of artifacts and evaluate whether the finds have been correctly identified. As this is a learning environment and many of the students have not come into contact with items commonly found in this area, particularly those students from other parts of the country or world, artifacts are occasionally mistakenly identified as something else. If I find that an item has been incorrectly identified, I fix the entry on the inventory sheet and notify the students of the mistake and explain to them what the item is so that they will recognize it in the future.

Field school students sorting and recording artifacts in the lab. Photo by Tacy Kennedy.

Once I decide that the artifacts have been correctly identified, I enter them into the catalog. Up to this point the artifacts have simply been categorized by type, but in the catalog each item is assigned a category (personal, military, etc.) and then within that category a general material type is chosen (masonry, ceramic, etc.). The material type is then further refined to specific material type (copper, plaster, etc) and finally the object itself is specifically identified (marble, bead, etc.). To further describe the artifact there are places to describe what portion of an artifact was found (whole, rim, etc.), the color of the artifact, and the count and weight that were recorded on the inventory sheets. Once all of the information for the artifact has been input into the computer, tags are printed and placed in the bags with the artifacts so that any future observers will know exactly what they are looking at and where it came from.

During a moment of lightness, the field school students recreate Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" while visiting La Purísima Mission State Historic Park.

Tacy Kennedy is the winner of SBTHP’s 2011 Higman Internship. She is currently working on a Masters Degree in Human Osteoarchaeology at the University College Cork.

Thanks team, Presidio Pastimes: The Santa Barbara Presidio’s Asian American Neighborhood was a Hit!

On Saturday October 1, SBTHP hosted our second annual living history day featuring Santa Barbara’s Asian American traditions at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. Over 500 visitors attended the event to watch performances of Taiko drumming, Hula, and Tai Chi, and try their hand at origami and Chinese brush calligraphy among many other activities.

SBTHP's Asian American History Advisory Committee with Education Department staff. Top row, from the left: Peggy Hergenroether, Karen Anderson, Kay Van Horn, Ambi Harsha, Keith Mar, Deborah Cristobal. Bottom Row, from left: Meredith Brockriede, Juliet Betita, Helen Wong, Terease Chin and Paul Mori.

We are grateful to our Asian American History Advisory Committee for their boundless enthusiasm and hard work in pulling off this ambitious event. SBTHP maintains many volunteer committees who assist with all of our projects and programs. We rely on these community members for the creativity, dedication to partnership, and sweat equity that help take our programs from good to great.  Thanks team—and we can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

Take a Seat in the Presidio Chapel!

Several years ago SBTHP board member Tim Aguilar showed us a Mission-period bench he had acquired. Tim noted that a few benches of the same design would be appropriate additions to the Presidio Chapel.    Although we know that most of the residents of the Presidio would have kneeled on floor mats during services, a few benches like Tim’s likely lined the walls during the early-nineteenth century.  A recent donation by Virginia Ridder made reproduction of Tim’s bench possible.   Thanks to the hard work of Tim and many interns, students, an experienced carpenter, and a talented blacksmith, we now have seven reproduction benches lining the walls of the Presidio chapel.   Want to view the world from the perspective of an early nineteenth-century Spanish resident of the Presidio?   Next time you visit, pop into the Chapel and take a seat!

Carpenter Moises Rodriguez cutting wood for the benches. Photo by Mke Imwalle.
Archaeology intern Frank Arredondo assembling the benches. Photo by Mike Imwalle.
Blacksmith Moises Solis from La Purisima Mission State Historic Park making hand-forged nails for the benches. Photo by Mike Imwalle.
Tim Aguilar priming the benches. Photo by Mike Imwalle.
2011 Presidio Archaeology Field School students (with their instructor, SBTHP Board President Bob Hoover, on the left) add the final coat of paint. Photo by Mike Imwalle.
The benches installed along the walls of the Presidio Chapel. Photo by Mike Imwalle.