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An Excavation Investigation
Before beginning this activity, print out, photocopy, and distribute "What Other Sources Tell Us" and the labeled plan of the site. Divide the class into six groups and assign each one an excavation unit to analyze and identify. The six units are properly identified as follows: prehistoric Native American living quarters (Unit One), Spanish soldiers' workshop/living quarters, (Unit Two), a Spanish church (Unit Three), the Spanish commandant's quarters (Unit Four), the Spanish trash-disposal area (Unit Five), a prehistoric Native American cremation area (Unit Six). On the basis of the facts listed, the objects in the unit, and where in the Presidio they were found (as shown on the plan map), students must determine the function of each unit excavated. Explain to students that an archaeologist or historian would have access to this type of factual information when undertaking their investigations.

Artist's rendering of Native American dwelling Artist's rendering of Native American cremation pit

Groups should answer as many of the following questions as possible based on the fact list and the artifacts and features found in their excavation units. Then the class should reconvene and attempt to answer the questions that involve comparing different parts of the site and establishing broader site patterns. There may not be enough information available to answer completely every question. In these cases, have students identify what additional information they need.

  • What inferences can you draw from the objects and remains found in your excavation unit? Who left them there? Is there evidence of trade? How old are the items?
  • What can you infer about how the space may have been used based on what was found in your excavation unit?
  • A predatory minnow was a local food source from the earliest period of human occupation through the Spanish period. Where does this fish occur today? What could account for this change?
  • List the different types of raw materials found in your excavation unit. Then classify the artifacts according to whether the materials were locally available or came from a distant source, and whether they arrived as raw material or finished products. How could these goods have made their way to Santa Cruz?
  • What can you infer from studying the human remains at a site and the objects buried with the remains? Were the dead cremated or buried? What do the different approaches suggest about the beliefs and life-styles of the people?
  • How would you explain the presence of Native American artifacts in rooms that were occupied by the Spanish?
  • Calculate the distance between Santa Cruz and the Gulf of California, where the Glycymeris shell originates. How long would it take to walk there? Write a story about Santa Cruz traders from prehistoric times. What would they trade for shell? What dangers and surprises might be encountered along the way?
  • All people everywhere have several basic needs: food and water, protection from the elements (clothing and housing), reproducing their culture (marriage, kinship, education), and explaining their world (religion, philosophy, science). Have students create a chart comparing and contrasting how the Native Americans and Spanish at Santa Cruz met these basic needs.
  • If coins dating to the 1740s were found at Santa Cruz, what can you infer about the time period that people occupied the site?
  • Have the children write a story about the life of a Native American or Spanish child based on the archaeological investigation.

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