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Piecing together a history of Old Sacramento

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In a tucked away classroom on the southeast end of campus, Cosumnes River College anthropology major Marcos Martinez picks up a ceramic artifact, studies it and places it into a plastic bag.

Martinez, 20, picks up his Sharpie and starts writing on the bag, cataloging it for future reference. He and a few other select students will continue this process until they run out of artifacts.

To the average eye, these artifacts are simply old pieces of ceramic, glass and stone. But, these artifacts tell a story and that’s what the Cosumnes River Archaeological Working Lab intend to unearth.

Since the spring 2012 semester, these students along with anthropology professors Anastasia Panagakos, Phd., and Amanda Paskey and instructional assistant CeeCee Cesario have put in several hours three days a week to piece together a part of Sacramento history in the post Gold Rush era.

“We’re taking what we got and we’re trying to come up with a story,” Martinez said. “‘Here’s the stuff we got, here’s the stuff we know,’ so maybe we can figure out who owned this site, how long it was operated and all the little stuff that you really can’t figure out by picking up a piece of a rock.”

While the students are getting a rare opportunity, Panagakos said that CRC came about these artifacts by accident.

“We actually didn’t know the collection existed, until we saw a newspaper article about the [Old Sacramento] underground tour that was being revived,” she said. “They had quoted an archaeologist that had worked on the original excavation and said that it had been spearheaded by a professor at CRC.”

That professor was David Abrams, who along with other CRC students worked on the excavations in the late 1970s. The site is located underneath  what is now the Enterprise Hotel in Old Sacramento.

However, due to some constraints, the excavation could not be properly analyzed or even catalogued.

“They ended up at State Parks’ storage and weren’t really looked at,” Paskey said.

But after a few phone calls and a lot of leg work from Paskey and Panagakos, the artifacts were brought back home to CRC. However, the work didn’t stop there.

“People on campus had to support us,” Panagakos said. “So the dean  [Ginny McReynolds] supported us especially to get us this space and then we had to have alarm code put in because State Parks has a protocol for the kind of security you need, because some of the artifacts can be quite valuable.”

With the support of the campus in hand, the CRAWL Lab has already put together a small piece of the puzzle.

“We have a lot of stuff that came from underneath brothels, so the artifacts represent the women that were there,” said 37-year-old anthropology major Angela Evoy. “We were able to prove that a lot of the women were successful, that they were able to make more money than a lot of the men doing gold mining. All the money is coming in from the gold mines and going to the women.”

Almost all the artifacts tell their own story, but Paskey and Evoy couldn’t help but smile at the mention of a pair of loaded dice that were found on the site.

“They haven’t found many dice in archaeological collections,” Paskey said.

The dice coupled with several medicine bottles that contained anywhere from 30-80 percent alcohol have made for some pretty interesting findings, Paskey said.

Some of the findings have already been presented at a conference in Berkeley, but that won’t be the only news coming out of the lab.

“We’re looking at putting together some short papers on specific artifacts,” Paskey said. “Then we’re looking to do larger presentations and larger publications once we have it all put together.”

While the information that the Crawl Lab has found has shed some light into Sacramento’s past, they are not resting on their laurels.

“We want to finish up and complete the collection,” Panagakos said. “It’s unusual for a community college student to have this kind of access.”

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Piecing together a history of Old Sacramento