HomeSchools & YouthMichael White Adobe Turns Archeological Site for Science

Michael White Adobe Turns Archeological Site for Science

Science can happen anywhere. Even in a more-than-a-century-old adobe building.

At the center of the San Marino High School campus, between the school’s athletics fields, the Michael White Adobe is currently the site of an archeological experiment.

Four at a time, the 63 students of San Marino High School’s advanced placement environmental science classes, taught by Michael Condie, have made their way to the Adobe on Friday mornings to practice archeological floatation.

SWCA Environmental Consulting, an archeological firm, built the floatation device, which allows students to practice the archeological method.

The floatation device is comprised of three water-filled barrels of three different heights, some piping, a bilge pump, mesh, and a tube.

Three students stand around the tallest barrel and use their hands to break up original adobe material from the Michael White Adobe, which was collected during a recent restoration project.

As they break up the material, mesh catches heavier materials like seeds and bones in the tallest barrel.

Smaller material like flora, fauna and straw flows into a second barrel where a finer mesh screens for those lighter materials.

What remains, makes its way into the shortest barrel, which is attached to a pump that sends water back up to the tallest barrel.

“You are going to get dirty a little bit. It is a little cold,” Marla Febler warned environmental science students as William Ellinger poured old adobe material into the tallest barrel.

Marla Felber, president of the Adobe’s support organization, Friends of the Michael White Adobe, and William Ellinger, a historic architect, oversaw the restoration and this most recent science project.

Students Joshua Wong, Joseph Kiang, Sam Collo and Jerry Wu were the first group to join Febler and Ellinger on a recent Friday morning.

After approximately 15 minutes of breaking up the adobe material, the meshes were raised and emptied onto trays.

“The key is, after you’re all done, [and] the whole class has experienced this, our intent is to send [the collected material] out this summer to find out exactly what was there,” said Febler, noting that SWCA will also professionally examine.

Febler explained that the idea of the floatation experiment was Ellinger’s “brainchild.”

“Bill set [the old adobe material] aside so that this project could occur,” she said.

“When we look at the material later we’ll say ‘These type of plants were here. These were the types of things that were occurring.’ It gives links to the past and perhaps the future of where things are going,” Febler explained.

“It’s a natural link to the subject of environmental science,” Ellinger said of the experiment, noting that findings could lead to helpful comparisons between the environments of past and present.

SMHS student Kyle Mauser of the advanced media arts class captured the experiment. To learn more about the Michael White Adobe, visit


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