Artifacts found in museum construction |

Artifacts found in museum construction

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Nevada State Museum anthropologist Gene Hattori talks Friday about excavating artifacts from the construction zone outside the museum.

It came as no surprise to anthropologist Gene Hattori when construction crews working on the Nevada State Museum project turned up signs of buried artifacts in the courtyard next to the historic old mint.

In fact, he anticipated it, making arrangements with Reyman Brothers Construction of Sparks before they even started digging.

Less than a week into the project to connect the old mint building with the museum annex, Hattori, curator of anthropology at the museum, and his assistant, Cindy Southerland, found themselves in a four-foot-deep trench, carefully outlining the walls of an old pit where workers at the mint long ago buried some trash.

The pit was next to where the old steam boiler that powered the coin presses and other machinery in the mint once sat.

“When they shut down at the end of the federal fiscal year, they’d replace the old boiler tubes, replace the coin dies and bury the trash,” he said. “We haven’t found any assay crucibles, what I’m hoping to find is old coin dies.”

A project seven years ago turned up several old coin dies, all deliberately damaged by mint officials so they couldn’t be used to make counterfeits. Hattori said those were found just a few yards from the new dig.

After five days of careful probing – and with Southerland running every bit of dirt through a fine screen to make sure nothing is missed – they found a number of items for future study, including a piece of a crockery ale bottle and a glass stopper for a chemical bottle. There were also fragments of other liquor bottles.

“And we did find a cast-iron rectangle, we do not know what it is,” he said.

“Most of our work – two or three times the amount of time we spend recovering artifacts – we spend researching and documenting,” he said.

Hattori said that when digging in downtown Carson City, construction crews should just expect to find historic artifacts.

“The early settlement dates to the 1850s and ’60s,” he said. “If you dig anywhere in this area, you might find something.”

Crews found something more disturbing a decade ago when they removed an old boiler behind the Ormsby County Courthouse at Carson and Musser streets – a piece of a skull later determined to be that of a teenage girl who died more than 100 years ago. The skull, believed to be at least part black, remains in the museum’s collection.

Hattori worked on that case as well.

In the pit Friday, he pointed to a collection of steel barrel hoops. The wooden stays had long since rotted away. On the other side, he pointed to a thick layer of charcoal, evidence of the fires that powered the steam engine, which powered the coin presses through a series of leather belts.

“In fact, there was an article in the Appeal at the time complaining about the cord wood piled too high on Curry Street,” he said.

He said he’ll keep an eye on the construction as Reyman Brothers crews prepare to build the new structure.

“Part of our job will be monitoring any trenching,” he said.

After all, for an anthropologist, it’s more interesting than sitting in the office. And, you never know what might turn up.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.