Archaeologist and college instructor Eric Ritter along with approximately two dozen Shasta College students and volunteers are digging for an adobe rancho built by prospector and rancher Peter Lassen, who made his way through Tehama County 170 years ago. The search has lasted five weekends.
Their research took them to the Abbey of New Clairvaux, a Roman Catholic monastery in the tiny town of Vina that is the present-day home of 21 monks. The monks gave the endeavor its blessing, allowing the students and volunteers to enter its sacred cloister where the public is usually not permitted in order to find a piece of history.
"We had some information from some of the local historians and the monks that were living here that we may have been dealing with Lassen's rancho here," said Ritter, who calls his team's work a testing program.
They've been digging, using metal detectors and maps to find clues that will lead them to the Lassen rancho. Students do it for class credit, but the volunteers work for no other reason than a fascination with history.
"I kind of think I was born with a trough in one hand and a desire to find the unknown," said volunteer Joe Molter.
As of now, the findings are inconclusive as to whether or not one of Lassen's adobe ranchos is on the monastery grounds. "The smoking gun would be if we found some of his foundations and some artifacts that relate to the 1840s when he was here," Ritter said.
If the group's detective work pays off it will have found a significant piece of California history.
"It basically would give us a lot of insight into the life ways and activities that happened here that are not written in the history books," Ritter said.