Environment & Science

Last chance to tour underground dig site across from San Gabriel Mission

One of dozens of buckets of dirt finds its way into a sifting tray near the San Gabriel Mission.
One of dozens of buckets of dirt finds its way into a sifting tray near the San Gabriel Mission.
Grant Slater/KPCC

You only have until next week to see a unique piece of Southern California history at an archaeological dig across from the San Gabriel Mission.

Free tours of the underground trench have been ongoing for a couple months, but they’ll end next Friday since construction for a rail project is about to begin.

“It’s really a unique opportunity for people to see real archaeology right in their own backyards in action,” said John Dietler, main archaeologist for the trench project. “So it’s a lot like what you see on the Discovery Channel, only it’s happening live and it’s very local, so I think it resonates with people as ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is right beneath my feet.’”

Dietler said visitors touring the site can watch from atop a viewing platform while workers sift through items they find.

So far, his team has discovered religious medallions, rare coins and even the foundation to an adobe building dating back to the 1800s.

“We have artifacts in small handheld glass cases that we’re able to show around to the viewers so they can see some of the amazing things that we found," Dietler said. "Then, we pass out some of the less fragile artifacts, like 200-year-old roof tiles, [so] that they’re able to actually put their hands on a piece of history.”

Dietler said that when they first starting digging a few months ago, he didn’t anticipate how rich the site would be.

“It’s surrounded by construction impacts, as is everything in Southern California," he said, "and we thought that the site would be in fairly poor shape, and we were surprised to learn that it’s actually very in tact."

Archaeologists will be available to give tours of the dig site through March 16. Saturday will be the first and only day they’ll schedule tours on a weekend.

Because the site has limited capacity, Dietler said visitors must arrange tours in advance. For more information, contact the agency in charge of the site, the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority, at 888-223-1426, or visit TheACEProject.org.