During the summer and fall of 1987, archaeological and documentary investigations were conducted at Calaveras Big Trees State Park under the direction of Julia G. Costello, Ph.D. The project more accurately identifed locations of structures associated with the original Big Tree Cottage (1853-1860) and helped to understand the landscape of this early time period. The study was partially funded by the Calaveras Big Trees Association and excavations were conducted through Columbia Community College. The report was published by California Department of Parks and Recreation and is made available here.big trees.pdf
Investigations began with a systematic metal detector survey of the area, led by Irwin Lee who organized northern California metal detector clubs. The presence cut (square) nails located the historic position of Big Tree Cottage. The suspected site of the Haynes Addition structure was archaeologically excavated and wooden foundation posts accurately identifed the building's location. Piles of lumber revealed that the building had been systematically dismantled when it was no longer used. Over 2,000 artifacts were recovered, nearly 80% of which were cut nails. The numbers and types of nails identifed a wooden structure with minimal framing.
A dendrochronological study by Ranger Wayne Harrison revealed the historic clearing occupied by the early structures. When this location was abandoned, new trees filled the clearing, growing rapidly due to the exposure to light. Easily catching up in size with their much older neighbors, the outline of the historic clearing was now rediscovered through core borings.