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San Luis Obispo is set to finish work on Chinatown artifacts

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Roughly three decades after they were pulled from the earth, hundreds of boxes of artifacts from San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown may well be on their way to being fully cleaned, sorted, and studied.

In a city staff report, SLO Principal Analyst James David detailed the city’s new plan—and new contract with the latest consultant—to finalize work on the artifacts of Chinatown, a corner of downtown SLO now marked by a few leftover buildings and a parking garage.

On April 21, the SLO City Council is scheduled to vote on a $52,000 contract with Sonoma State University’s Anthropological Studies Center. (The contract approval is listed as a consent item, meaning it will likely be approved with little comment or controversy.) If approved, the Anthropological Studies Center will continue work on the Chinese and Native American artifacts uncovered in 1987 during the early construction of what is now the Palm Street parking garage.

About 5 tons of materials were unearthed, held in a limbo state for a few years in a large storage container, reexamined by archeologist John Parker and a team of volunteers, and eventually housed in a deteriorating and relatively unsecured building on Dana Street as Parker slowly chipped away at the remaining work.

The city parted ways with Parker in mid 2014. According to the staff report, the Dana Street location contained 145 boxes of materials. Another 75 boxes were pulled from the SLO County Archaeological Society, and city officials delivered another 25 boxes, as well as 15 oversized items, to Sonoma.

With the new team, city officials expect that the materials will be sorted, catalogued, and studied over the next few years, and potentially become the source of grad student theses. The city expects that the work will be complete by mid 2018, which will include a report on the findings.

David told New Times that the public should also expect to see some new “interpretive signs” in the Chinatown District explaining SLO’s Chinese history. Similar signs and displays could end up in places like the library and the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

“The collection is in good hands up in Sonoma State with the Anthropological Services Center,” David said.

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