Archaeology students unearth The City’s history

Underneath piles of mud in The City’s historic Presidio lies one of San Francisco’s first buildings.

For three weeks a group of college archaeology students, mostly from UC Santa Cruz and Aptos’ Cabrillo Community College, were entrusted with unearthing the old Spanish chapel. Discovered in the 1990s, it is believed to be one of the first buildings in The City.

“What we want to do is bring the site to life so the people here know what’s beneath their feet,” said Eric Blind, an archaeologist with the Presidio Trust, a government-appointed agency that oversees the development of the Presidio.

The Presidio was originally built by Spain in 1776 as a small military fort named El Presidio de San Francisco. The chapel, which is now little more than stone walls buried under 7 inches of dirt, is one of the last remaining buildings of the era.

The students, who slept in the Presidio’s army barracks during their dig, finished the study Thursday. They were trying to unearth the chapel’s floor and chart its dimensions, according to program director Rob Edwards.

Hundreds of curious residents who came to the park since the dig began 17 days ago stumbled across the excavation and would ask about the history, according to Blind.

On Thursday, a few remaining students sat in cordoned-off holes, wearing mud-stained jeans and baseball caps, looking for remnants and artifacts from the old church.

Edwards said archaeologists have found plaster from the original walls that used to melt under the harsh weather conditions in the Presidio and old crucifixes buried under those walls.

After the excavation is complete, the Trust plans to rebury what is left of the chapel walls to help preserve it, then build new walls on top to give visitors an idea of the original site’s dimensions. Artifacts pulled from the dig will be displayed for residents at the Presidio to learn about the early history of The City.

“The Presidio has so many layers of history. We’re trying to figure out a way for the deepest parts of that history to be brought out,” Blind said.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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