After The Dig
June 20 –June 23, 2005

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Después de la Excavación

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Proyecto Arqueológico
de Tennessee Hollow Watershed

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Hollow Watershed Archeology Project! more...

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The Tennessee Hollow Watershed Archaeology Project

South view of Presidio dig Welcome to the Tennessee Hollow Watershed Archaeology Project, a Stanford University research project undertaken in partnership with the Presidio Trust and the National Park Service.

The project is a study of how this valley was used during the Spanish-colonial and the Mexican periods of the Presidio (ca. 1776-1847).

The information learned will help us better understand and share the history of this public park and National Historic Landmark District.

The Future of a Watershed

Historic map of the Presidio The Tennessee Hollow Watershed drains 271 acres in the eastern portion of the Presidio of San Francisco. It is a freshwater source for the marsh at Crissy Field. In the late 1800s, the U. S. Army modified the watershed, diverting most of the running water into underground drains.

The Presidio Trust is exploring opportunities to enhance the watershed's natural systems, improve public access, protect historic resources, and encourage community stewardship. Our excavations will support this process by improving our understanding of how local inhabitants used the watershed before it was modified by the Army.

The Presidio’s Rich History

Painting of the Presidio from the 1800's When Spain colonized California, this area was selected as the site for a fort - in Spanish, a presidio - to defend San Francisco Bay. About forty families emigrated here from northern Mexico in 1776. The Presidio’s population was culturally diverse. Many Native Californians, including the Ohlone, lived and worked at the settlement. The colonial population included Mesoamerican, African, and European people.

After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the Presidio became a Mexican frontier outpost. The United States Army took control of the Presidio in 1846, and it gradually became the most significant post on the West Coast. In 1994, the Army departed and the Presidio became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Tennessee Hollow – An Important Place within the Presidio

Artist's image of Juanna BrionesTennessee Hollow is rich in historical and ecological significance. During the Spanish and Mexican periods, the area was used for farming and livestock grazing. Freshwater springs provided water to the settlement year-round.

El Polín Spring, at the south end of Tennessee Hollow, was also the home of Juana, Maria de la Luz, and Guadalupe Briones during the early and mid-1800s. These three sisters, who were of African/Latino descent, played an important role in the development of San Francisco. Today Juana Briones is celebrated as an astute businesswoman, landowner, and healer who challenged the gender conventions of her time.

Eureka! Discoveries in 2003

We started excavating at El Polín Spring in Summer 2003. We discovered a stone foundation of a Spanish-colonial/Mexican period adobe house - a house that the Briones family probably lived in! Near the house, we discovered a trash deposit that contained broken household ceramics, glass bottles, metal hardware, and animal bone. We also found artifacts, such as flaked and ground stone tools, that are usually associated with Native Californians. The presence of these artifacts suggests that some Native Californians were also working or living at El Polín Spring at the same time as the Briones family. We also learned that El Polín Spring was a very different place 150 years ago. By studying the soils, we learned that this area was once a patchwork of different environments, including marshes, small streams, sand dunes, and hills.

More Excavations in 2004

Aerial photo of site Our research explores the cultural outcomes of colonization by studying the daily lives of the people who once lived here. In summer 2004 we excavated inside the adobe house and in its yard and trash deposits. We recovered artifacts that will help us reconstruct the activities that happened here long ago.

El Polín Spring allows us to study people who were part of the military community but lived outside the main settlement. Why did the Briones family live at El Polín Spring, instead of with the rest of the colonial population? What was the relationship between the Briones family and Native Californians? Our investigations are also a valuable opportunity to study the participation of women in colonial military society.

Watch our progress on-line! Our website includes regular research updates and interactive forums where you can post your questions and perspectives. Visit us on the web at: