PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (May 19, 2022) – A team of archaeologists has solved the mystery of what lies under a layer of abalone shells on a proposed construction site at the Presidio of Monterey.
Laura Prishmont-Quimby, the archaeologist and cultural resource manager for U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey, said that when storm water exposed the shells a few months ago, she knew right away that archaeologists would have to investigate.
Abalone are large sea snails, and since humans eat them, discoveries of their shells means humans put them there. The question was whether Native Americans deposited the shells—a frequent indication of a burial site—or others such as Army personnel.
A team of four contract archaeologists spent May 17-19 carefully digging and examining the site, and after finding a horseshoe-shaped object and a hand-blown wine bottle more than a foot below the shells, the team determined Army personnel most likely deposited the shells.
“Given what I know about the history of the Presidio, which goes back a long way, this all appears to be early to mid-19th century stuff,” said John Schlagheck, project archaeologist for Dudek, a construction services company contracted for the project.
Prishmont-Quimby concurred. “When you see a big, thick layer of abalone like this, but then underneath it you’re finding bottles and horseshoes, you know from the stratographic sequence that the abalone pavement came well after the historic period,” she said.
The Army officially established the installation as the Presidio of Monterey in 1904, and Native Americans lived on the land where the Presidio stands today long before then. They also lived on the land before Spanish explorers first arrived in Monterey Bay in 1602, or began colonizing in 1769.
Prishmont-Quimby said the archaeologists’ determination is significant because government officials need to know what lies under construction sites before crews start digging.
If personnel discover a site during construction, all work comes to a halt, and the government is still on the hook for paying the construction crew, Prishmont-Quimby said.
The site is located at Bldg. 279, a dilapidated former wagon shed, and garrison officials plan to address the installation’s critical parking deficit by building a parking lot at the site, Prishmont-Quimby said. The installation currently uses the area for parking, but it is haphazard and unsafe. A well-constructed parking lot would allow for more space.
In addition to highlighting the importance of investigating potential archaeological sites before construction, the project also brings to light how the Presidio’s Intergovernmental Support Agreement with the City of Monterey makes obtaining services more efficient, Prishmont-Quimby said.
The company that performed the work is the city’s on-call archaeology company, so the Presidio had direct access to the company through the IGSA, Prishmont-Quimby said.
“This is an example of good partnering with the City of Monterey,” Prishmont-Quimby said.
To learn more about archaeology and the history of the area, the Lower Presidio Historic Park has walking trails with interpretive signs. In addition, the city’s Presidio of Monterey Museum has a lot of information, and people can learn more at https://monterey.org/city_facilities/museums/discover_museums/presidio_of_monterey_museum.php. To learn more about the history of PoM, visit https://home.army.mil/monterey/index.php/about/history.