Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis

The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis: Race and Sexuality in Colonial San Francisco

Barbara L. Voss
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 420
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis
    Book Description:

    This innovative work of historical archaeology illuminates the genesis of the Californios, a community of military settlers who forged a new identity on the northwest edge of Spanish North America. Since 1993, Barbara L. Voss has conducted archaeological excavations at the Presidio of San Francisco, founded by Spain during its colonization of California's central coast. Her research at the Presidio forms the basis for this rich study of cultural identity formation, or ethnogenesis, among the diverse peoples who came from widespread colonized populations to serve at the Presidio. Through a close investigation of the landscape, architecture, ceramics, clothing, and other aspects of material culture, she traces shifting contours of race and sexuality in colonial California.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93195-4
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. 1-8)

    Ethnogenesis refers to the birthing of new cultural identities. The emergence of a new ethnic identity or the reconfiguration of an existing one is not simply a question of terminology. Moments of ethnogenesis signal the workings of historical and cultural shifts that make previous kinds of identification less relevant, giving rise to new forms of identity.

    Studying ethnogenesis, as it happens today and as it has unfolded in the past, provides a means to trace the changing contours of social life. At its core, the investigation of ethnogenesis reveals the politics of social difference. Identities simultaneously provide ontological security (we...

    (pp. 9-38)

    “Found any gold yet?” the driver called out from the UPS truck passing by the excavation site. I’ve come to recognize these catch phrases about buried treasure and dinosaur bones for what they are: not evidence of the public’s ignorance about archaeology, but a tentative opening gambit in a conversation between strangers.

    “Not yet,” I called back, trying to sound welcoming. “But we are finding some interesting things. Want to come take a look?”

    In the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban park that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, public participation and interpretation are core components...


      (pp. 41-69)

      On July 26, 1776, a caravan of 193 men, women, and children arrived at a small plateau at the northern edge of the San Francisco peninsula. Defined on its east and west by two valleys containing spring-fed creeks, the plateau was somewhat sheltered by a bank of hills rising sharply to the south. The site commanded an impressive view of the San Francisco Bay and of the Yelamu Ohlone village of Petlenuc,¹ which stood on the bayshore only a few minutes’ walk to the north.

      The expedition of military settlers had been traveling together for nine months. Some families had...

    • 3 FROM CASTA TO CALIFORNIO, I: Who Lived at El Presidio de San Francisco?
      (pp. 70-99)

      The artist’s reconstruction shown in figure 3 depicts El Presidio de San Francisco as it may have appeared in 1792. National Park Service interpreters and illustrators created this image in 1996, basing their depiction of the site on historical and archaeological research. The image was developed through a long review process involving NPS historians, archaeologists, and interpretive staff. At that time, I was working at the Presidio of San Francisco as an archaeological consultant and was invited to sit in on some of the review sessions. Most discussions in which I participated focused on whether or not the site’s architecture...

    • 4 FROM CASTA TO CALIFORNIO, II: Social Identities in Late Spanish and Mexican-Era Alta California
      (pp. 100-116)

      The ethnogenesis of Californio identity was both immediate and incremental. Within only two decades of their arrival in Alta California, the military settlers had cast away the racializing taxonomies of Spanish imperialism, drawing on historical antecedents from alternative practices of identification in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century New Spain. Into the early 1800s, the regional ethnonym “Californio” was used alongside other forms of shared colonial identification. Even after “Californio” became the primary identity for colonial settlers, the term’s meaning continued to shift as the province’s residents adjusted to the economic, political, and demographic changes resulting from Mexican independence and U.S. annexation. We can...

    • 5 FROM ARTIFACTS TO ETHNOGENESIS: Excavating El Presidio de San Francisco
      (pp. 117-144)

      June 3, 1993, was unseasonably cold, even for San Francisco’s infamous fog-banked summer weather. All day, the coastal winds had whipped rain through my “waterproof” jacket, and I was chilled to the bone. When I arrived at the site of the last tank removal operation for the day, I was already anticipating a return to dry clothes and a warm office. It was only 1:30 p.m., and if everything went quickly, I could still get some work done on an overdue report. So when I inspected the pit in the backyard of Officers’ Quarters 12, I was momentarily inclined to...


      (pp. 147-172)

      The importance of landscape in the study of colonial ethnogenesis in Alta California is far from coincidence. After all, the colonial settlers took their new collective ethnonym, Californios, from the toponym of the province. In doing so, they grafted themselves onto the land, and the reproduction and transformation of social identities became entangled with the reproduction and transformation of place. The strong bonds between colonial identity and place are a reminder that, at its most fundamental level, the colonization of Alta California was a transformation of spatial relations (Cook 1943): an appropriation of indigenous lands for colonial ends, and the...

    • 7 STRUCTURING STRUCTURES: Architecture
      (pp. 173-202)

      This chapter continues the investigation of space, place, and ethnogenesis by examining the architecture of El Presidio de San Francisco’s main quadrangle. As the colonial transformation of the San Francisco landscape illustrates, places are socially produced and actively constituted by the people who inhabit them. Power is inherent in, rather than prior to or a result of, the social production of place. It is one of the means by which power relations are materialized through practice and strategy. This is especially apparent in the production of architecture.

      Architecture is a technology that gives physical presence to the regionalization of social...

    • 8 TRADITION AND TASTE: Ceramics
      (pp. 203-232)

      El Presidio de San Francisco’s military settlers inhabited a world of clay. The vertical walls that defined their built environment, whether of wattle-and-daub, rammed earth, palisade, or adobe, were surfaced in clay; the settlers walked across floors and plazas made of packed clay and fired-clay ladrillos; and, after the 1790s, they slept under roofs of curved clay tejas. The settlement was ringed with wide pits excavated to harvest clay for these constructions. Portable ceramic vessels were ubiquitous and resonated with the fabric of the settlement itself, linking fixed architecture to the activities of everyday life. Our excavations have recovered thousands...

      (pp. 233-251)

      “Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.” Since 1825, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s aphorism (1999:3) has succinctly pointed to the tense and persistent relationship between food and social identity. The act of consuming food—taking foreign substances into the body for sustenance—is both intimate and intensely social (Dietler 2006). Food and ethnicity are closely intertwined and often mutually categorized: modern restaurant guides and supermarket aisles are commonly organized with ethnonyms. Food is not only a medium through which ethnic authenticity is enacted and debated but also a venue in which social boundaries are installed...

      (pp. 252-286)

      Five uniform buttons, two dozen dark glass embroidery beads, and a cheap glass costume jewel—the dense deposits of the Building 13 midden have yielded only a small handful of artifacts derived from the clothing of El Presidio de San Francisco’s colonial settlers (fig. 37). This scarcity is echoed throughout the archaeological site. Buttons, beads, buckles, religious charms, and other traces of bodily adornment are so rare that they account for barely 0.01 percent of the artifacts recovered from the settlement. The low frequency of clothing-related objects is perplexing when compared to other archaeological investigations. Study after study has found...

  10. CONCLUSION: The Limits of Ethnogenesis
    (pp. 287-306)

    This study has traced the history of a group of colonized subjects who were recruited and relocated to serve as colonizing agents of the Spanish crown. It is often the most disadvantaged members of society—those with the fewest options, those who are viewed as expendable—who are pressed into service on the front lines of others’ imperial projects. The military settlers who founded and maintained El Presidio de San Francisco were no exception. Despite the known danger and deprivations, joining the Anza expedition offered tantalizing opportunities for economic betterment and a fresh start in a new land. Drawn into...

  11. APPENDIX: Zooarchaeological and Archaeobotanical Analyses
    (pp. 307-324)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 325-342)
    (pp. 343-388)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 389-400)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 401-401)