Archaeology examines and interprets the material remains of past cultures as an aid to understanding the development of and commonalities between all cultures. These cultural remains are often buried beneath the surface and require excavation to unearth.
Prehistoric cultures of southern California are divided into chronological units based primarily on changes in adaptation to the environment. These changes are reflected in the tools recovered and the remains of plants and animals consumed, as well as, environmental reconstructions. Archaeological sites in the region range from a few hundred years old to Paleoindian sites greater than 10,000 years old.
Historic sites within the region are primarily those of the Spanish, Mexican, and American periods from 1769 to the present. Typically, buildings and deposits in excess of 50 years old are evaluated, though not all are significant.
Most prevalent within southern California are American period homesteads from the 1850s to the depression era. Remains often include bottles, cans, building debris, and structural remains. Excavation and analysis requires historic research that includes historic maps, census data, and other documents to provide context for the recovered materials, often including the individual or family responsible for the deposit. This information allows the reconstruction of the lifeways of early historic period settlers.
Pacific West Archaeology staff and most lead agencies find that early identification and project redesign is the most expedient and cost-effective treatment of these remains. To be of maximum assistance, the identification of cultural resources must be given early priority in the planning process. Identification is often only the first stage in the treatment process.
Where redesign is not possible or permits require evaluation studies, Pacific West Archaeology makes every effort to recover and report the nature, extent, integrity, and significance of tested resources on-time and within budget. Tests are based on sample sizes determined in cooperation with lead agencies, conducted through rapid deployment of personnel using cost-effective field techniques, analyzed with state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, reported and published by highly trained and skilled professionals to the satisfaction of lead agency reviewers.
The methods and techniques of field data collection vary considerably depending on the age, size, depth, and nature of the site under investigation. Surface collection uses point-provenience requiring a distance and angle from an established point. Items are collected, labeled and returned to the laboratory for cataloging and analysis. Archaeological features are complex entities that would loose significance if removed or disturbed. Features are mapped in place with data transferred to site maps using computer aided drafting software.
Mechanical excavation exposes cross-sections to evaluate soil stratigraphy. Hand excavation focuses on the recovery and documentation of artifacts with care given location of the items. Artifacts are cataloged and compared to existing collections to interpret the period of manufacture, possible use, and origin of the material. These and other analyses, such as, radiocarbon dating, are conducted to determine the significance of the site for the purposes of treatment recommendations.