The air is that perfect San Francisco temperature where you can’t tell if you want to put your jacket on or take it off. I’m the first person to arrive, so I kill a few minutes, before the first of the archaeologists I’m going to shadow for the morning show up.
I’m at the Presidio in San Francisco, standing next to a test pit that digs down through three centuries of history. I’m standing in a patch of green next to a parking lot, near the Officers’ Club, the last remaining bit of the building that the archaeologists here are excavating.
The layers in the pit clearly show us the foundations of the old building. And, intriguingly, they show evidence of a second building built atop the first. The entire San Francisco Bay Area was once ruled from a Spanish Colonial Fort here on this hill. It was built from adobe at that point, and a layer of white in the soil reveals its remnants. Amusingly, the original quadrangle stood without an eastern wall for many years before its fourth wall was finally added, ages after the other three were built.
The fort was later taken over by America, and expanded, replacing three of the original sides with larger ones further out, keeping only the southern wall, which contained the rooms that became the Officers’ Club. Some other remnants of the newer American fort remain; notably, some of the archaeologists here are living in what were once barracks for American soldiers (the nooks and crannies of which have hidden all sorts of historical treasures, such as a losing hand of cards, torn up to dispel bad luck before shipping out).
From the dig we move inside to the Lab. This is where the bulk of the work goes on: shifting and sorting, finding artifacts among the dirt, identifying, tracking, labeling, and filing them away for storage, analysis and preservation.