Now Curating

The San Diego Archaeological Center houses many prehistoric and historic collections from the San Diego County and adjacent regions. The Center is equipped with over 5,000 square feet of vault space that allow us to provide long-term curation and care for a wide range of archaeological materials, including artifacts, ecofacts (unmodified bone & shell, and charcoal samples), maps, photographs, and site records. Partnering with local colleges and universities provides a setting for volunteers and students interested in archaeology to gain hands-on experience working with archaeological collections.

How Does the SDAC Acquire Collections?

Most of the collections that are curated at the Center come to us from Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firms who have done work for private companies, or federal, state and local government agencies. These CRM firms work with developers around the county to make sure that construction is done using ethical and sustainable methods and that archaeological sites are protected and documented. Once their work is complete, CRM firms curate collections at the Center for long-term preservation and care.

How is a Collection Curated?

Curating a collection involves many steps: reading the report, inventorying and organizing the artifacts/ecofacts, updating the catalog, printing labels and attaching them to the artifact/ecofacts bags, printing box labels and inventories, and creating collection documentation like the master catalog. An executive summary is filled out for each collection that documents the details of the project before it came to the Center and everything that happens to it after it arrives. While Covid-19 restrictions are in place, collections are still being curated by staff. Normally they are also curated by volunteers and interns.

Take a closer look at the collections currently being curated at the Center in this virtual exhibit, Now Curating.

Project Name: Final Archaeological Data Recovery for a Portion of CA-SDI-48, San Diego
Site(s): CA-SDI-48
USGS Quad Location: Point Loma 7.5’
Year of Excavation: 1997 and 1998

Olivella beads

PL 04, a federal collection, is in the curation process. With inventory having been completed, the labeling of artifact bags is ongoing.

Overview of Site

Cultural resource data recovery at this site took place at two Loci, A and B. An early milling archaic component and shell midden yielded Olivella beads, bone tools, and otoliths. Historic resources were also recovered from this site. This collection consists of two boxes from a 1997 project and eleven boxes from a 1998 project.

Radiocarbon dates for several shellfish and charcoal samples from past projects verified a long-term human occupation at the site (circa 6,000-2,000 years ago). The report from the 1998 project states that the large set of dates makes CA-SDI-48 one of the best, if not the best, dated sites in southern California.

Additionally, a thorough analysis of shellfish remains, fish bone, and terrestrial faunal remains from the site has provided new insights into the life of the people of the La Jolla complex during this time.


Protothaca staminea (Common Littleneck clam)

A majority of the collection consists of unmodified shell (over 169,000 g/372 lbs.). There were 48+ types of shellfish identified from bivalves (clams/mussels/oysters) and gastropods (snails) to chitons and crustaceans (barnacles/crabs). They were procured from a variety of habitats: bays and estuaries, exposed rocky and non-rocky shores. The most prevalent recovered species, Protothaca staminea (Common Littleneck clam), Chitons (mollusk), and Ostrea lurida (Native Oyster), could be found in more than one of these habitats.

Chitons (mollusk)

Many of the small snail types represented in the collection were probably gathered incidentally; they were attached to eelgrass or kelp and accidentally brought to the site. As such, they were not considered to have been collected as food sources. However, they do provide an idea of what activities the inhabitants were participating in at the time of the site’s occupation.

As the report states, the “variation in shellfish species at the site reflects the occupants’ abilities to roam over a large area and exploit a variety of environmental niches. The diet of the occupants was varied both in nutritional value of the shellfish, the taste, and the availability or opportunity to capture a given species”.

Faunal Remains

Bone awls

The species of fish represented in the collection show that fishing was done in the adjacent bay, kelp beds, and offshore waters. The presence of bone awls may indicate the repair of fishing nets and fishing gear. Fish bone analysis showed a high occurrence of head and facial skeletal parts, along with terminal vertebrae, which indicates that the fishermen at the site decapitated and removed the fins from the fish. They then moved the processed fish to another area for storage or cooking. The lack of burnt fish bone also shows that the site served, in part, as a fish processing camp.

Otoliths (fish ear bones)

The most plentiful species of fish represented, by number of fragments, are White Croaker (485), Rockfish (307), California Sheepshead (230) and Perch (187). Studies of the otoliths (fish ear bones) found at the site indicated an abundance of fish caught in early to late summer.

The animal bone is of a much smaller quantity of the collection than the shellfish. There are 3,119 fragments, of which 82% were from small terrestrial mammals including black-tailed jackrabbit, desert cottontail rabbit, California ground squirrel, and pocket gopher. An analysis of past and current studies found that the frequency of burnt non-fish vertebrate remains on the site indicated minimal direct fire burning. This, along with little evidence of butchering, reveals a preference for cooking (probably in soups or stews) rather than roasting.


Ostrea lurida (Native Oyster)

The reports shows that the information recovered from the data recovery programs at this site can be used to address important research questions and to pose new ones.

For Further Reading

For further exploration into the topics mentioned above, these titles are available for checkout from the SDAC Research Library.

California Bone Artifacts (Anthropological Records), E. W. Gifford
Californian Fish Spears and Harpoons (Anthropological Records), J. A. Bennyhoff
A Key to Some Southern California Fishes Based on Vertebral Characters: Fish Bulletin No. 79, Charles R. Clothier
Marine Fish Osteology: A Manual for Archaeologists, Debbi Yee Cannon
Seashore Life of Southern California, Sam Hinton
Shell Bead and Ornament Exchange Networks Between California and the Western Great Basin, James A. Bennyhoff and Richard E. Hughes

Funded in part by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego

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