El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

Archaeology

Dr. James Deetz and UCSB graduate student Wayne Alexander excavating the Presidio East Wing, 1961.

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Presidio Volunteers: Russell Clay Ruiz, Alice Ruth Ruiz, Russell Antonio Ruiz, Jeremy Hass (seated), Michael Hardwick, and Richard Whitehead.

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Girls Dig-it program participants from Girls Inc. of Santa Barbara with SBTHP archaeologists Mike McEttrick (l) and Mike Imwalle (r). Photo by Bob Sheets.

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Dr. James Deetz and UCSB graduate student Wayne Alexander excavating the Presidio East Wing, 1961.

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Plan Your Visit

The Presidio Archaeology Laboratory is located at 916 Santa Barbara Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. For information about the Presidio Archaeology Lab collections or volunteer opportunities, please contact: Michael Imwalle, Archaeologist, by phone (805) 962-2101 or by email.

History

Archaeological research has played an integral role in the development of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park for more than fifty years. Renowned historical archaeologist James Deetz conducted the first known archaeological excavation of the Presidio site in 1961 behind the Cañedo adobe. During the late-1960s and early 1970s a dedicated group known as the Presidio Volunteers focused excavations on the Chapel site and the adjoining Padre's Quarters. Using the 1788 Goicoechea/Fages plan as their guide, they also excavated at various locations around the quadrangle in order to determine the alignment and location of the original Presidio quadrangle. This information would provide the basis for the eventual reconstruction of portions of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara.

During the past six decades the site of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara SHP has been the focus of numerous educational archaeology programs. During the 1970s students from Santa Barbara Junior High School, Santa Barbara High School, and Santa Barbara City College participated in archaeological investigations. In 1983 an archaeological field school from the University of California, Santa Barbara began exploratory excavations in the northeast corner of the Presidio quadrangle. Field schools sponsored by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1994 and 1995 concentrated on the identification of Presidio structures in the northwest corner of the quadrangle. In 1996, 1998, and 2000, California State University, Long Beach conducted field classes at the Presidio using various geophysical techniques. Seismic resistivity, proton and cesium magnetometers, and ground penetrating radar were introduced to students as they surveyed the Rochin Adobe property in search of the southeast corner of the Presidio. Archaeological education programs have also been conducted for Girls Incorporated, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.

Between 1998 and 2002 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation's archaeological staff conducted excavations in the vicinity of the northwest corner of the Presidio quadrangle. Northwest corner excavations have revealed scores of artifacts from Santa Barbara's earliest European settlement as well as archaeological features indicative of palisade and adobe structures, cooking facilities, and domestic trash disposal sites. Since 2005 the Cal Poly Archaeological Field Schools were held annually in the area of the Second Defense Wall. These excavations have provided more features and artifacts for interpretation as well as contributed valuable data for the development of plans for the Second Defense Wall Reconstruction Project.

Archaeology Department volunteer Don LaBarre exposing demonstrating the elevation of historic grade. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

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2009 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Field School students excavate the rear of the Presidio’s north wing. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

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3D model of the Santa Inés Mission Mills complex created by Chip Fenenga's students in the Environmental and Spatial Technologies (E.A.S.T.) class at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, 2013.

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Archaeology Department volunteer Don LaBarre exposing demonstrating the elevation of historic grade. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

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​Current Projects

SBTHP's archaeological staff continues to conduct field, laboratory, and archival research on a number of ongoing projects within El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park as well as other SBTHP-managed properties.

 

Archaeological fieldwork consists of surface reconnaissance, geographic information system (GIS) survey, geophysical survey, excavation and resource recording. Laboratory work includes water screening, sorting, cataloging, and analysis. Ongoing research and preservation projects are being conducted at the Alhecama Theatre, the Santa Inés Mission Mills, and the Cota-Knox Building.

Mexican Majolica excavated at the Santa Barbara Presidio. San Elizario Polychrome (left), San Diego Polychrome (top center), Monterey Polychrome (center), Esquitlan Black/Brown on Yellow (bottom center), and San Augustine Blue-on-White (right). Photo by William B. Dewey.

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Spanish Colonia period assorted wire-wound, faceted and cane beads excavated at the Santa Barbara Presidio. Photo by William B. Dewey.

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Objects excavated from a trash pit near the rear of the Presidio Chapel, associated with early 20th century Japanese residents of the Presidio area. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

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Mexican Majolica excavated at the Santa Barbara Presidio. San Elizario Polychrome (left), San Diego Polychrome (top center), Monterey Polychrome (center), Esquitlan Black/Brown on Yellow (bottom center), and San Augustine Blue-on-White (right). Photo by William B. Dewey.

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Archaeology Collections

The Presidio Archaeology Lab is a research facility dedicated to the laboratory processing, analysis, cataloging, and storage of archaeological materials from more than fifty years of excavation at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara SHP. Established in 1988 by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, the lab also houses collections from other historic properties operated by the Trust including the Casa de la Guerra adobe, the Rochin adobe, and the Mission Santa Inés Mills complex. The lab also serves as a repository for the field notes, maps, sketches, drawings, and photographs associated with the collections. The primary goal of the Presidio Archaeology Lab is to provide support for the restoration and reconstruction of the Presidio.