Southern California's Urban Development essentially began in the 1860s and 1870s with the extension of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the establishment of a farming population. Cities grew in response to those needs and fishing supplied much of the daily food source. Historic photographs from the 1890s show that harbor fishing fleets included two and three mast sailing ships, but a significant portion of the fleet consisted of Chinese junk scattered throughout the Bay. An active and extensive Chinatown was established in Southern California in response to these and other needs.
In the late 1980s, the Great Basin Foundation conducted excavations of the remaining building features, trash pits, backyard courtyard features, and walkways after the main city block within Riverside Chinatown was raised. From these excavations literally tons of ceramic and glassware was recovered, dominated by ceramic table wares and food containers. Large amounts of food debris also existed, consisting primarily of pork with some fowl. SRSinc staff produced 1] a synthesis of food remains and animal information usage by the American-Chinese community in general and 2] an analysis of the Chinatown remains and an interpretation of their probable use by that specific community.
Of significance was the documentation of use of medicines that were animal-based, including the use of House Geckos in a compound called 'da bu wan'- a general curative. The geckos were represented by skull and limb bone fragments that at first appeared to be a large rodent, chuckwalla-size. LACMNH comparative collections corrected that identification to Gecko gecko, or the very large Chinese House Gecko, large enough to eat mice. Historic documents showed that the Chinese used parts of this animal for medicinal cures. Ethnographic research was then conducted in Los Angeles Chinatown among the Chinese apothecaries. Most interviewed people knew of the medicine but did not make or sell it. Finally, an herbalist was found who had dried house geckos in a case in his store and explained their use only in the Chinese language. A female customer agreed to translate but kept giving short sentence translations when the original Chinese statements had been quite lengthy. The translation difficulty became obvious when it was learned that the primary cure was for impotence and the female customer could not talk about this subject in her culture. The recordation of these finds at Riverside Chinatown is the first record of that use in the Americas.
Evidence of an extinct Late Pleistocene flightless auk or sea duck, Chendytes lawii, was recovered from deep deposits at Bolsa Chica Archaeological Site CA-ORA-83, or "The Cogged Stone Site," suggesting that the first period of use of the Mesa may have been at a time transitional between the Pleistocene and Holocene in northern Orange County, at least 11-12,000 years ago. Identified by Los Angeles County Natural History Museum Bird Specialists, this bird was so large--goose-sized--that it was too heavy to fly more than a few feet. Rarely found in Southern California, this bird did not become extinct until about 2,500 years ago. Frequently the extinction of the bird is attributed to the interference of humans in the ecological balance. However, the onset of the dog is probably the specific instrument of demise. The lack of ability to rise high in the sky kept this animal from a quick escape mechanism. Chendytes could not outrun a dog, which can run up to 45 mph, and would have quickly been caught and consumed.