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Digging for history at the San Diego Archeological Center


Last updated 12/15/2006 at Noon

Digging for history is not just for archeologists and anthropologists. There is a facility in Escondido that offers various educational opportunities for the general public. Just past the Wild Animal Park sits the San Diego Archeological Center, where anyone is welcome to enjoy the exhibits and attend occasional seminars and classes.

The center serves as a repository for local artifacts and is also “committed to returning archeological collections to the public as a cultural resource,” according to a center spokesperson.

“The center offers educational programs and is devoted to increasing the public’s knowledge and appreciation of American history… there is little public awareness of California history prior to the Spanish arrival.”

The center curates over 4,000 boxes of archeological artifacts documenting 10,000 years of our region’s cultural history. Annemarie Cox, program coordinator, said the center defines the word “curate” as “the care, management and use of a collection.” Cox holds a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology, and assisting her with the collections are Suzanne Moramarco and James Whitaker, who also hold Bachelor’s degrees in anthropology. Cindy Stanowski, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a Master’s degree in museum studies, is the center’s director.

San Diego County is home to 17,000 archeological sites. Visitors can view and even touch some of the artifacts found at some of these sites. The artifacts range from pre-historic times to the late nineteenth century. Rows and rows of metate, or Native Indian grinding stones, are cataloged and stored along with various other artifacts.

The center boasts a lending library as well as permanent and rotating exhibits. The main exhibit, which will run through January 31 and centers on an excavation, is entitled “A Letter from the Ocean Hotel: A Traveler’s Adventures in San Diego – 1888.”

The exhibit narrator is a fictional character, Gemma Penthorpe, who was created because of an artifact of cherry toothpaste from Britain found at an excavation site at Petco Park. The Ocean Hotel was located in that area at the corner of Seventh and K Streets. Found at the site were glassware, dishes, bottles and personal items dating from the late 1880s.

Natural history overlaps with the archeological collection and thus the center stores a variety of minerals and shells from the area. “Cultural resources depend on natural resources – we wouldn’t have an arrowhead if we didn’t have quartz,” said Cox.

Nails and barbed wire are also interesting pieces on display. At this collection, visitors discover that all nails are not created equal. Staff members have identified, and have on display, boot nails, construction nails, horseshoe nails, plank nails and railroad nails.

Stone bowls from the Middle Holocene period (5,000 to 7,000 years ago) discovered off the local coast in depths of 20 meters (65.616 feet) can be viewed in an enclosed cabinet. Dr. Patricia Masters and Dr. Joan Schneider surmised that the bowls were used in fishing activities either to weigh nets or grind chum (fish bait).

One of the permanent exhibits is a large clay vessel called an “olla,” which is Kumeyaay in origin and was reconstructed by Research Director Dr. Margie Burton.

The center offers programs led by scholars where youth are taught to observe, then infer, then create a hypothesis from the information.

“I believe that a student who has spent time with us will begin to look at objects differently,” noted Annemarie Cox.

San Diego

Archaeological Center

16666 San Pasqual Valley Road (State Route 78)


(760) 291-0370


Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Admission is free.


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