|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Friday, June 25, 2004
North County Times 6-25-04
PALOMAR MOUNTAIN -- An anthropology student held up a sealed glass jar Thursday containing a few tablespoons of liquid ---- the most momentous of a thousand-plus artifacts unearthed so far at what was once the stone cabin of the county's first black homesteader.
"You almost never get the complete vessel ... I can't emphasize this enough," said San Diego State University Professor Seth Mallios, who has led a group of 11 anthropology students for three weeks in clearing the site and unearthing the artifacts.
The site's former owner, Nate Harrison, is the namesake of Nate Harrison Grade Road, a steep, rock-riddled stretch of several miles that winds up the mountain.
A slave from Kentucky freed in 1850 when California entered the Union as a free state, Harrison lived on the property from the 1850s to 1920, according to the San Diego Historical Society.
Harrison was known for his warm welcome to travelers on the nearby road, which led from Pauma to the Doane Valley. Harrison reportedly brought their horses cold water from a spring right by his home, one of many widely-shared stories about him.
Mallios and his students say they want to know more, especially about Harrison's day-to-day life.
The volume of artifacts has been surprising, Mallios said.
"It's kind of blowing our minds how much stuff we have found," he said.
The pickling jar's half-inch of pale yellow liquid could just be rainwater that somehow got in, Mallios said. However, further examinations could reveal a material far more telling.
After they clean the jar off and open the iron lid, students will test the liquid at a laboratory in San Diego.
Moments before she could pick up the jar and hold it in her dusty hands, graduate student Sarah Stroud, 28, was using a dental pick ---- the size of a toothpick ---- to clear dirt behind the object.
During the painstaking yet routine work, Stroud said, "I think about this man up here, and what his life must have been like."
She, Mallios and the other students also wonder about what this cabin looked like, she said. They have been camping on the site, relying on a cold-water shower and a latrine, Stroud said. She said she wonders how Harrison managed without any of that.
Stroud said she hopes to complete a thesis by next May about Harrison and the discoveries at the site. She has studied him for two years, and said the artifacts help develop her picture of him.
"I feel him better and less," she explained. "I feel I have so many more questions now."
Among other items, the group has found an ornate, silver-plated spoon and fork, multiple gin bottles, an ebony pipe mouthpiece, brass furniture tacks, an eggshell, a 1916 buffalo or Indian head nickel, window glass, a sardine can key, pencil lead, a nickel watch chain and clock gears.
Mallios said he wonders why Harrison, who reportedly lived an isolated life, concerned himself so with time. He also wonders if the pencil lead means Harrison was literate.
More than four photographs of Harrison ---- one where a hand thrust in his pocket reveals his watch chain, another where a pipe is pulled out of his mouth for the picture but appears poised for re-entry ---- adds to the mystery.
Mallios and Stroud question why a black man living in a racist time was so well-received in his community as to be photographed many times.
His hospitality with the cool water may have been one reason. To commemorate his welcoming nature, the county of San Diego originally christened the grade after Harrison. However, a racist term preceded the name Nate, according to the Historical Society.
In 1955, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People petitioned county supervisors to rename the road "Nathan Harrison Grade Road."
Harrison and his road would have had his fill of visitors Thursday as spectators and TV cameras packed the area for a news conference.
While being fitted for a microphone, student Onika Miyashiro, 19, said this was her first interview, not to mention her first dig.
"It's been quite the experience," she said, adding that she's learned about clearing the site, soil tests, and using tools such as the dental pick.
There was a lot of dirt behind fingernails. At least one mother was pleased to learn that her daughter, one of the archaeology students, was not as "girly-girl" as she thought ---- she is one of the hardest workers in the group, the mother was told.
Family, friends and others staff members from San Diego State's archaeology department seemed captivated by the dig and artifacts.
"It's interesting to know this is in your own back yard," said La Mesa resident Pat Sweeney, a mother of one of the students.
Although the dig ends today, there is much more to learn, Mallios said. For years, students will return to continue the delicate work, he said. There are also soil tests to run, among other tasks, to learn about Harrison.
The work will go on with the enthusiastic cooperation of the property's current owners, Jamey and Hannah Kirby, who built the shower and latrine for the students. The Kirbys moved there from Fallbrook in 2001 and run a software company from a small building on the property.
Jamey Kirby said he considered reading up on archaeology techniques and eventually doing the work himself. He said he was pleased when Mallios and Stroud drove up more than a year ago, dropped off a business card, and broached the idea of doing the dig.
"This is great," Kirby said. "I love history, love watching
that stuff on television ... now, to have it in my own back yard."
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