Over the past 2 months, archaeologist Michael Stoyka has been in the Project Lab meticulously sorting and identifying fish bones found in a midden site that was uncovered in the construction at Moscone Station, a part of the Central Subway project in downtown San Francisco. Middens are archaeological refuse heaps that consist of piles of discarded shells, bones and other debris and artifacts from human everyday life; they contain records of the types of foods that were eaten as well as the types of tools that were used by the inhabitants that lived in the area.

In cooperation with the city of San Francisco and the Municipal Transportation Agency, Michael and other archaeologists from the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University are investigating the contents and origin of this midden site, which is associated with the native Ohlone people. By federal law, the Central Subway project is required to have a cultural resource management (CRM) firm monitor the construction in order to make sure that cultural sites and materials are not damaged. Michael was the CRM monitor who supervised the construction and found the midden deposits.


In the Project Lab, Michael is using the Ichthyology bones collection to help identify fish from this midden, which is thought to date back to 1,200-1,400 years ago. Many of the bones are very small and fragmented, so he has to rely on diagnostic parts of the skeleton such as the vertebrae or the otolith. From these bones, he is finding perch, top smelt, jack smelt, sardines, herrings, rockfish, salmon, bat rays and sturgeon. The information from Michael’s work will be compiled with findings from the analyses of other dietary remains and tools found in the midden in order to put together a picture of how the Ohlone people lived in the past.

This is one of the many interesting projects that are happening in the Project Lab. Come back next week to hear stories about nudibranchs from graduate student Carissa Shipman.

Project Lab Coordinator

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