June 23, 2000

Treasures Uncovered

Trade and Exchange at the San Diego Presidio

Open now at the Serra Museum is a new exhibit, Treasures Uncovered: Trade and Exchange at the San Diego Presidio. On display are artifacts recovered from the Presidio archaeological site, dating to the time of the first European settlement in California in 1769 when Father Junipero Serra Established Basilica San Diego de Alcala, the first of the state's chain of twenty-one Spanish missions. Treasures in the form of ceramics, religious and personal goods represent just a fraction of the more than a half-million artifacts excavated to date at the Presidio site. Their exhibition illustrates how San Diego's European settlers and native peoples interacted with one another between the establishment of the Presidio through its abandonment in 1839.

Among the objects on display are crucifixes, corpuses (an image of the body of Christ, usually affixed to a crucifix), medallions, altar railings, ceremonial objects, jewelry, glass and shell beads, buttons, buckles, a wooden comb, and a bone crochet hook. Venetian glass beads, introduced to the region by the Spanish were widely used in trade with the native Californians, and as currency to pay laborers in building the mission. While the religious items exhibited would most likely not have been used as trade goods, trade was necessary, nonetheless, in obtaining the materials used to manufacture them. Alternatively, these could have been obtained by trading with merchant ships stopping in San Diego.

Just as the Spanish trade with the Native Americans, the native peoples traded with other native groups using a series of trade networks and trails. Nor did Spanish goods arrive in San Diego solely by sea. The annual shipment of Spanish goods which arrived in Acapulco, Mexico, via the Manila Galleons was shipped northward to Alta California using overland routes in the Presidio's last years as an occupied settlement, Yankee traders exchanged British-made Phoenix buttons in various sizes with the Californios in return for hides and tallow.

Treasures Uncovered is located in the Crosby Room on the mid-level of the Serra Museum's tower, which offers breathtaking views of San Diego Bay, the Pacific Ocean and Mission Valley. Led by Dr. Lynne Christenson, the faculty and students of the Collections Management Program at San Diego State University designed and coordinated the exhibit.

The exhibit represents the first in a series of related annual exhibits resulting from a partnership between SDSU, the City of San Diego — Metro Parks Division, the San Diego County Archaeological Society, San Diego Archaeological Center, and the San Diego Historical Society. Says Bob Witty, executive director of the Society, "We are delighted to have this new exhibit at the Serra Museum, and we're grateful to Lynne Christenson, her students and colleagues for their work in creating it. The museum is the perfect place for these artifacts to be on display, at the site where they were recovered." Mr. Witty added, "This continues a partnership that has evolved between the City of San Diego, SDSU, the Archaeological Society for this site, and the San Diego County Archaeological Society in preserving the heritage of this early part of San Diego's history." The Society has operated the Serra Museum since it was built in 1929, and has sponsored numerous excavations at the Presidio site since the 1930's.

The Serra Museum is located at 2727 Presidio Drive. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (The last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.)

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