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Beheaded Doll The field school has been digging for just over a week, and in that time we've toured the neighborhood and begun to excavate several units along the rear lot line of the three homes that once sat at 903-913 California Street.  Insurance maps from the late-nineteenth century onward show a series of outbuildings along the back yards of these homes, and these buildings in homes' back yards (such as outhouses and stables) were places residents often discarded their household refuse.  We have only started excavations, so we have dug a very small percentage of the space in any of these lots.  Nevertheless, we have found a diverse collection of household artifacts (including the small porcelain doll at left) as well as a laid brick surface and a dog burial. 
On the first week of field school we toured the Ransom Place neighborhood with resident Thomas Ridley, who grew up in the near-Westside in the 1920's and has spent much of his life in the community.  Ransom Place Neighborhood Association Past-President  Daisy Borel gave us a tour of the Ransom Place Learning Center Museum.  The following day we toured Lockefield Gardens, a Public Works Administration public housing complex, with Kenneth Adams (President of the Lockefield Civic Organization, top right) and Richard Crenshaw (bottom right), who grew up in Lockefield with Mr. Adams.  Opened in February 1938, Lockefield was a segregated community that was home to thousands of African-American families over more than a half-century, and some of the buildings survive today as private homes.  Both Mr. Ridley and Mr. Adams have been interviewed as part of the project's oral history program. Mr. Adams
Mr. Crenshaw
cal2005aaron.jpg (121807 bytes) Left (click on thumbnail for larger image):  Aaron opens one of the units along the yard's rear lot line. The rear of 907-909 California Street has two excavation units placed alongside a series of outbuildings that covered the rear lot line for more than 50 years.  The initial excavation has yielded some predictably recent artifacts--one unit has an especially rich collection of pull tabs--but as the units have progressed (and the artifact deposits have gotten older) we have recovered a mix of household refuse ranging from Vaseline bottles to jewelry.   
cal2005finial.jpg (80212 bytes) Left (thumbnail): This small ceramic animal head was probably once a decorative ornament on a table vessel.

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Top:  We find pretty much anything people discarded.  So far this summer that has included objects such as (thumbnails, from left to right above) a Vaseline bottle, cuff link, decorated ceramic bowl, and a tin that likely held cigarettes or makeup.
Left:  Ransom Place's distinctive architecture is often lauded by local preservationists, but relatively little attention has been paid to how near-Westside homeowners landscaped their yards.  However, archaeology throughout the near-Westside has identified many ornamental yard features, including flower beds, fish ponds, and brick sidewalks like this one at the rear of 903 California Street.  This curling sidewalk sits near the alley line for the home, directly alongside a large longstanding outbuilding that is unidentified on insurance maps.  The structure is not identified as a stable--though a horseshoe was recovered from the unit--and it is much larger than normal outhouses.  The circular sidewalk runs at a sharp angle away from the house, so it may have nothing at all to do with the outbuilding; sometimes sidewalks were laid between house and outhouse, but this does not seem like a purely functional, straight sidewalk aimed directly for the privy.  Excavation in this area will be examining the contours of the sidewalk to identify how it fit into a yardscape that may have included flowers and ornamental sidewalks.
One of the units at the rear of 907-909 California Street uncovered a pocket of animal foot bones not far beneath the surface.  A skull soon was uncovered (top right), and a collar was exposed on a dog skeleton that was laid out on its right side.  If an animal carcass was left exposed on the surface it would quickly be dismembered by a variety of neighborhood scavengers, so this was clearly an intentional pet burial.  The burial has not yet been dated; it may have a tag on its collar that will date the burial, or we may find an artifact that was either intentionally buried with the dog or simply fell in by accident when the pit was filled.  A series of small nails laying in lines directly alongside the body suggests the dog was either placed within a small box or had wood lining the sides of the burial shaft (though no wood survives in the burial or left a clear stain, which would typically happen).  A series of large stones and some bricks appear to partially encircle the body, so the stones and wood may have been intended to guard against having the body uncovered by predators.  However, the burial is extremely shallow in relation to the contemporary ground surface, and the legs are pitched up higher than the vertebra--which is why we found the animal's feet before its back.  Several laid bricks at the dog's feet are lower than the top of the burial, so they pre-date the burial:  The bereaved pet owner likely did not know the brick sidewalk was in place until they began to bury the animal, and in the process they apparently disturbed some of the bricks. caldog5251035.jpg (86443 bytes)
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RIght:  When the dog was originally buried, the excavation apparently disturbed an existing brick sidewalk that had been forgotten beneath the ground surface (the bricks remain in place to the right directly behind the dog).  A large field stone rests in the bottom left corner of this picture; it is not clear yet if this was already in place or moved during the burial.  The picture below shows the collar in place and a root that has grown through the eye socket.

We have just begun excavations, so we hope to have more to report on as summer progresses.  Email if you have any questions or would like to visit the site or volunteer on the excavation.

Last updated June 1, 2005