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San Gabriel Valley Tribune
January 31, 2012
By Lauren Gold, Staff Writer

Student get hands-on lessons in archeology, local history

Stephanie Hernandez left, an archeologist at SWCA Environmental Consultants describing the archeological dig to students. (Walt Mancini/Staff Photographer).

SAN GABRIEL - One of the most important archeological sites of the region sits just across the street from the San Gabriel Mission.

The site, being dug in anticipation of construction of the Alameda Corridor East (ACE) rail project, has already yielded Spanish coins, animal bones, beads and a bone fragment or two.

In anticipation of winding up the dig in March, ACE officials have been conducting unofficial tours of the site for schoolchildren in Alhambra and San Gabriel.

Stephanie Hernandez, an archeologist at SWCA Environmental Consultants, describing the archeological dig to students. (Walt Mancini/Staff Photographer).

On Monday the San Gabriel Historical Association organized a community day for 100 residents to take a tour of their own.

"We believe it could be one of the more important archeological opportunities in the greater Los Angeles region," ACE spokesman Paul Hubler said.

Nine-year-old Lin Knudsen's favorite part of a recent school field trip was touching roof tiles from a building that used to be part of the San Gabriel Mission.

"I love history," she said.

Knudsen and her Washington Elementary School fourth grade classmates had an opportunity to witness history in action Friday when they visited the archeological dig site just across the street from the mission.

"We get to see things you wouldn't see in a normal day," Knudsen said.

The group is one of a number of local schools that have visited what is officially known as the San Gabriel Trench project. The archeological excavation began in late December. The project is part of ACE's large-scale railroad improvement project that began in 1998.

Ultimately ACE and San Gabriel officials hope to have rail crossings at critical intersections that are above or below grade to make auto traffic flow more smoothly.

Horse tooth, right, and faunal fragments found at the San Gabriel Trench Project. (Walt Mancini/Staff Photographer)

ACE reached out to Alhambra and San Gabriel Unified School Districts, and many schools are scheduled to visit until the dig concludes in mid-March.

In addition, the SGUSD fourth and fifth graders were able to participate in classes about archeology led by Eloy Zarate, Pasadena City College history professor, and his wife Senya Lubisich, Citrus College history professor.

"Our presentations give students an idea of what archeology actually is," Zarate said, "because when you tell kids about archeology the first thing that comes to their mind is dinosaurs."

They also give students an understanding of how digging up an artifact translates to print in a history book, said Zarate, who has children of his own in SGUSD.

Kyle Griffith holding a coin found at San Gabriel Trench Project. (Walt Mancini/Staff Photographer)

"Kids are getting a real hands-on, practical experience to tie to what they are learning in their textbooks," Zarate said.

Among the artifacts students had a chance to see up close were a horse tooth, a cow leg, beads, jewelry, pottery and a Spanish coin from 1816.

"This was a huge community that would have encompassed a bunch of people," said archeologist Ryan Glenn, of SWCA Environmental Consultants, the group leading the dig. "We are actually standing right in the middle of their garden."

The site could also reveal information about the Gabrielino, a branch of the Tonga tribe that lived on the land before the mission was founded.

"I think it will provide us with a little bit more knowledge with regard to how they lived, what things they had, how they survived," said San Gabriel Mayor David Gutierrez, who is of Gabrielino descent.

Gutierrez is also the chairman of the ACE Board of Directors.

Community members can also take advantage of the opportunity by calling the ACE Construction Authority at 888-223-1426 to arrange a visit.

ACE Construction Authority will hold a press conference on Thursday to discuss the historical artifacts it has discovered so far during the dig.

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