What historians have learned at the bottom of Virginia City's glass

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In the late 19th century, when the working day was done and it was time for the locals to relax in Virginia City, they went to the saloons.

More than 150 years later, historians and archaeologists are going back to those saloons in search of information about the era.

Dr. Kelly Dixon, who participated between 1997 and 2000 in the excavation of several historic saloons in Virginia City, will be offering several lectures in Northern Nevada this week.

Dixon, an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Montana, is the author of "Boomtown Saloons: Archeology and History in Virginia City." She will give a lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno. The second presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

Dixon said going into the excavations, the intent wasn't to excavate saloons but to obtain the information they needed and drinking houses were the best source.

"People think this is a very expensive way to investigate history. They say why not just read a book, but whether we like it or not our history is biased," Dixon said. "We wanted to find evidence about groups that weren't well documented, the marginal people like African Americans and women."

During the presentations, Dixon hopes to discuss the fascinating history unearthed through archaeological excavations at the Boston Saloon, Piper's Corner Bar, O'Brien and Costello's Shooting Gallery and Saloon, and the Hibernia Brewery.

"We learned that the best picture of saloons in Virginia City wasn't going to come from the portrait of one saloon, but from comparing several drinking establishments," Dixon said. "These saloon projects became a lot more than digging up bottles."

This spring, Dixon will publish her forensic research applications at the Boston Saloon, including DNA analysis on cheek cells demonstrating that a pipe found in the Boston Saloon was smoked by a woman.

Dixon's lectures compliment the "Havens in a Heartless World" exhibit on display at the Nevada State Museum through April 28th.

If you go

What: Lecture by Kelly Dixon author of "Boomtown Saloons: Archeology and History in Virginia City"

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Nevada State Museum,

600 N. Carson St.

Call: 688-1191

Also: Lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Nevada Historical Society, 1650 N. Virginia St., in Reno

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at jshipley@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.


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