Ground Stone

Bedrock and Boulder Cultural Features in Global Context. In September 2013, the Center received a Begole Archaeological Research grant to bring an international team to sites in San Diego County to study bedrock and boulder features including mortars, basins, cupules, and slicks. The project includes aerial drone mapping and 3-D digital modeling of the features. Similar features occur in many parts of the world. One long-term goal of the project is to help place the archaeology of San Diego County in global context.

drone launching2topomap3dexamplejpggs



National Science Foundation Grinding Technology Project. The Center was awarded a National Science Foundation grant in 2007 to conduct research on ground stone tools.  The project, titled Understanding Hunter-Gatherer Grinding Technology through Experimentation (BCS-0714727), was aimed at improving interpretations of grinding tool assemblages related to pre-contact hunter-gatherer societies.  Grinding experiments were organized as a collaborative learning experience for middle-school and high-school students and formal and informal educators.  The experiments engaged the students and educators in the scientific process of gathering data and developing and testing hypotheses, thereby enhancing science education.  Further, this project utilized previously excavated museum collections for its archaeological component rather than requiring new destructive excavation.  It thus demonstrates the research value of curated collections and helps to promote the preservation of cultural sites.  Research results have been presented at Society for American Archaeology Annual Meetings (St. Louis 2010, Sacramento 2011, Memphis 2012), at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (Paris 2010), and at the San Diego County Archaeological Society meeting on September 25, 2011. Publications in collaboration with Dr. Jenny Adams are in preparation.

nsf logosaa2010tn

Click on the image to learn more about this project.


Technological Analysis of San Clemente Island “Donut Stones”.  A macro and microscopic investigation of “donut stones” (perforated stones) including lithic typing and manufacture and use-wear analysis was conducted by the Center in collaboration with the Department of the Navy-Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest Division. Geologist Dr. Patrick Abbott assisted with the study. Related data and images were published on Open Context in October 2011 to allow free public access. Many of the donut stones studied are currently on exhibit at the Center.

Click here to learn more about this project.


Sourcing Sandstone Cobble Grinding Tools Using U-Pb Geochronology and Comparative Petrography. The Center is collaborating with Dr. Patrick Abbott and Dr. David Kimbrough of the Geological Sciences Department at San Diego State University to conduct comparative petrography and U-Pb detrital zircon sourcing studies of sandstone (quartzarenite) cobble manos identified in some of the Center’s ground stone collections and in collections curated at the Begole Archaeological Research Center in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The project is funded by a Begole Archaeological Research Grant. Fieldwork (geological prospecting) in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and adjacent areas was conducted between November 2011 and April 2012. Lab work was conducted at the University of Arizona LaserChron Center between May-July 2012. Geology graduate student research intern Peter Haproff (University of California, Santa Barbara BS 2011; University of California, Los Angeles PhD program) assisted with this project. Posters about this project were presented at the April 2012 Faculty Research Fair at California State University San Marcos and the November 2013 Colorado Desert Cultural Heritage Symposium in Borrego Springs, CA. Our new article in the Journal of Archaeological Science:“Sourcing sandstone cobble grinding tools in southern California using petrography, U-Pb geochronology, and Hf isotope geochemistry” by Margie M. Burton, Adolfo A. Muniz, Patrick L. Abbott, David L. Kimbrough, Peter J. Haproff, George E. Gehrels, and Mark Pecha, is now available online.




Ceramic Compositional Analysis Projects. Since 2006, the Center has collaborated with Dr. Patrick S. Quinn, University College London, UK (formerly University of Sheffield), to conduct a series of petrographic and chemical studies of indigenous hunter-gatherer pottery and raw material sources.  These studies have been focused on curated ceramic assemblages from sites within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and have been funded by the Begole Archaeological Research Grant Program.  Analyses reveal great compositional variability within the sampled area.  Results have been presented at the 2009 Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting (Atlanta), the annual Archaeology Weekend at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), the European Meeting on Archaeological Ceramics (Vienna 2011), and have been published in the volume Interpreting Silent Artefacts: Petrographic Approaches to Archaeological Ceramics (Patrick Sean Quinn, editor; Archaeopress). A presentation titled “Malcolm Rogers on ArchaeologicalCeramics” at the March 2012 Society for California Archaeology annual meeting included results from these projects. Additional publications appear in the Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly (2013) and American Antiquity (2013). The next planned stages of this research are binational, extending the study to Baja California in collaboration with Antonio Porcayo-Michelini of Centro INAH.

Margie Pat Quin2Ceramics









University of Manchester Ceramic RHX Dating. Drs. Moira Wilson, University of Manchester, and Christopher Hall, University of Edinburgh, UK, received NERC funding for a 2-year RHX (rehydroxylation) dating validation study beginning July 2011. The Center has submitted samples that will be tested as part of this study.  Click on this link for more information on RHX Dating.


Student Research

A wide variety of undergraduate and graduate student research projects have been conducted at the Center, with the assistance of Center staff, or using Center collections or research equipment.  Research staff facilitate collections-based research by helping to identify and provide access to appropriate study materials, including archaeological and library collections. We encourage students to contact us about project ideas, equipment, and materials. Contact Executive Director Cindy Stankowski at


Erin Ching (University of Santa Clara) “Lithic Raw Materials in Archaic and Late Prehistoric Ground Stone Assemblages from Otay Mesa, San Diego County, CA”. Senior Honors thesis.

Nikki Falvey (University of California, San Diego) “Wisdom in the Waste: Obsidian Studies and Late Prehistoric Social Systems”. Senior thesis.

Jamaica Grace-Bishop (University of California, San Diego) “Pottery and Place: a Comparative Analysis of Mountain and Desert Pottery from San Diego County, CA”. Internship project.

Michelle Graham (San Diego State University) “Petrographic Analysis of a Ceramic Typology”. Independent research paper.

Micah Hale (University of California, Davis) “Santa Barbara and San Diego: Contrasting Adaptive Strategies on the Southern California Coast”. Doctoral dissertation.

Marco Hatch (University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography) “Assessment of archaeological bivalves as indicators of shoreline, salinity, and productivity”. Doctoral dissertation.

Mark Jumps (Palomar College) “GIS:  Mapping the Past for the Future”. GIS Certificate project.

Suzanne Moramarco (Palomar College) “Predicting rock art site locations in San Diego County”. GIS Certificate project.

Joelle Morgan (University of California, Berkeley) “A comparison of Kumeyaay tool materials:  An analysis of use-wear with wood and stone”. Senior Honors thesis.

Rebecca Nathan (Palomar College) “Randomizing Polygon Locations: Enabling the San Diego Archaeological Center to Participate in the Open Context Project”. GIS Certificate project.

Sophie van Heymbeek (University of Sheffield, UK) “Petrographic Analysis of Late Prehistoric Ceramics from CA-SDI-12947/H, Pine Valley, San Diego County: Investigating Provenance and Technology”. Masters thesis.