UC Santa Barbara anthropology doctoral student Kaitlin Brown and her team made a prized discovery while excavating the site of Chumash "family apartments" at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc.
The team found the iridescent remnant of a giant sea snail — Haliotis rufescens, or red abalone, according to UCSB. It was discovered 1.2 meters below ground.
Brown was leading the excavation of the mission. She said the abalone was unique in that other shell fragments they'd found were mussel.
The abalone first appeared as a small piece sticking out of a sidewall, according to UCSB. Careful work eventually brought the artifact into the light for the first time in more than 200 years.
"It was a charged event because we had no idea how big it was and slowly, as we started getting deeper and deeper into the sidewall, we realized how massive it was," Brown explained. "After we excavated the whole abalone out, I handed it over to the Native monitor, passing the abalone that appeared to be deliberately placed by a Mission resident a few hundred years ago into the hands of a Chumash tribal descendant."
The work at the mission is part archaeology project, part classroom for Anthropology 181, "Methods and Techniques of Field Archaeology," which Brown is teaching.
The field class wrapped up Aug. 3, though Brown will continue to visit the site in the fall. She says she spent two years preparing for the dig.