'Archeological dig' at high school uncovers remains of 27

Removal expected to last through end of August

The site of the new gymnasium at San Ramon Valley High School has become more of an archaeological dig than a construction site as technicians undergo the laborious process of uncovering and disinterring the 27 human remains found so far.

Flat blades have been added to the toothed maw of excavators, forcing them to carefully scrape layers of ground away as the search continues for more remains. Archaeological technicians have come from throughout the area to document the remains found. The bodies are found buried in small oval depressions, legs drawn up to the chest and arms folded into their sides.

Years of time in the ground have left little remaining but bones, but experts say this will be enough to tell at least some of the tale.

"This is called a 'flexed position' that they're buried in," said Andrew Galvan. Galvan, the curator of Mission Dolores, is a Native American who can trace his roots back to before the European colonization.

Galvan was named by the Native American Heritage Commission as the Most Likely Descendant, which puts him in charge of removing the remains and transporting them to the Ohlones Indian Cemetery in Fremont.

"There is a lot you can tell from the remains," he said. "By the size you can tell if it was an adult; you can tell the sex a couple of different ways."

One way scientists can determine gender is through the sciatic notch. Galvan said that because the notch will expand slightly during childbirth, a wider notch generally suggests a female while a narrower notch means a male. Another method would be using the brow ridge. Males had a greater protuberance in their brow ridge.

Technician Joel Garcia, a masters student at San Francisco State, marked off a grid surrounding one burial site in order to map out the remains.

"What we're doing to mitigate the site is to reconstruct it on paper," he explained. "It gives us a record of how the remains were situated within the site." Garcia said once the record was complete they would begin the process of taking the remains out of the site for transportation to a laboratory.

Testing is expected to determine how old the remains are, but Galvan said he would estimate they are somewhere between 250 and 2,000 years old. He added that because they have found some remains as deep as 8 feet below the ground and some as shallow as 3 feet that there could be a wide range in the timeframe the individuals were buried. Workers will examine artifacts found near the remains as a rough means of estimating their ages.

"The depth certainly is no sure indicator, but it suggests that those buried deeper may be from years earlier than those buried more shallowly," he stated.

Galvan, who has served as Descendant on numerous occasions during the past three decades, said he is expecting that they will find still another 20 or more individual remains over the course of examining the area.

Several archaeological sites surround the high school location. Galvan said Tatcan was a Bay Miwok village located near the high school, and the workers may have uncovered a mortuary complex.

"Think about the little church on the hillside with the fenced in cemetery in back," he posed. "People did that because they wanted to be able to bury their loved ones close by."

Once the remains have all been exposed, they will be carefully removed to an undisclosed location where they will be examined and prepared for re-burial in the Ohlones Indian Cemetery in Fremont.

In the meantime, work is proceeding on the new gymnasium at the high school, albeit more slowly. The major foundation work is expected to be completed by early next week. Galvan said that if they have found no further remains when the excavation for the foundation has reached its maximum depth they will close their investigation.

School District spokesman Terry Koehne said the project is continuing. "We're still allowed to work in certain areas, areas where we have not yet found any remains," he said.

At this point Koehne said it is unknown if the discovery of the remains will delay the conclusion of the gym project or whether it will add to the nearly $10 million price tag of the construction.

Koehne said they do know that because the remains were found on district property, it is up to them to pay the costs associated with the removal process, an amount estimated at $25,000.

Both Galvan and school district officials remind residents that the site is closed to the public both as a sign of respect for the dead and for public safety. Individuals are not allowed on the dig site.

Those looking for more information on the Bay Miwok tribe and their history in the San Ramon Valley can visit the Museum of the San Ramon Valley. An exhibit on the Bay Miwok will run from October-November.

Training 'Most Likely Descendants' for the future

Taking part in the excavation and relocation of the dozens of Bay Miwok remains found at San Ramon Valley High School is an exercise in archaeology and local history. But for some it's a lesson from their shared cultural heritage and a step in the process to being a part of it.

Andrew Galvan has spent decades serving as a spokesman for the local Native American tribes, as well as the designated Most Likely Descendant, a job in which he assists in the preservation and relocation of Native American remains.

Now he has begun the process of passing on to others the history he learned from his ancestors. Joining Galvan at the dig site at the high school were his great-nephew James Irwin and Vincent Medina, a cousin.

"The two of them I'm hoping are the next generation. Not just in the field with the skeletal remains, but the knowledge I can share. The traditional knowledge, all the things I've learned over the years," Galvan said.

Both young men are studying anthropology, Irwin, 21, at the University of Nevada Reno, and Medina, 22, at Berkeley City College. Irwin began studying his heritage early, as he would often go to dig sites with "Uncle Andy" and his mother, Desiree Irwin, who worked as a field tech for her uncle.

Medina said that while he did not have the same intensive background training as Irwin, the desire to learn about their ancestry grew in him through high school. "I've always known this part of my identity but it made me wonder more about it, so I went and talked to Andy," he recounted.

Irwin and Medina were friends at Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo and midway through they learned that they were related, sharing a common great-great-great-grandmother. Irwin said that having that knowledge of their history gives him a greater sense of place.

"It's interesting knowing that they can trace our family history back to the 1700s, knowing that I come from something back that far," he said. "Going from being friends to being distant relatives was just really intense."

Galvan said he has taken the two young men under his wing, apprenticing them in the heritage and history of their people and the duties they have to their people, both living and dead.

"My goal is to teach them. Teach them the stories I've been told. Pass on the knowledge I have to the next generation so it doesn't get lost when I die," Galvan said.

Added Medina, "That's how the flame stays alive for us."


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Posted by Jon
a resident of Danville
on Aug 5, 2009 at 7:32 pm

I continue to fail to understand why Galvan and the whole excavation crew can be so flippant about removing the bones of 20+ dead people from what was meant to be their eternal resting place. We should be treating this place with respect as though it were our own ancestors buried there, not as though it were some item of archeological curiosity. Let the Miwoks lie!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rick Pshaw
a resident of Danville
on Aug 5, 2009 at 10:41 pm

I agree. This travesty will result in a curse being placed on the land and buildings. You think not? Go check around...

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Liz
a resident of San Ramon
on Aug 6, 2009 at 10:26 am

I agree. This isn't just a random collection of people, this was intended as a resting ground. It sounds like they're going to find more than 50 people.

Rather than remove the people, we should respect them. We should leave the bones and have a memorial to these early settlers near the high school to give kids some perspective on history and the local area.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alamo Resident
a resident of Alamo
on Aug 6, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Bad JuJu coming. Remember what happened to Greg on the Brady Bunch.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Duffy
a resident of Danville
on Aug 7, 2009 at 8:37 am

Liz is right! They will find the bones of 53 Miwok Indians and 12 dogs!

The gym should be redesigned to resemble a Miwok Kaawul Kotcha and the school should be renamed Miwok High School.

This is an opportunity that should not be ignored.

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Posted by Karrie Camezon
a resident of San Ramon
on Aug 9, 2009 at 12:14 pm

While I understand the historical significance of this amazing find, I too am saddended by the removal of these remains. As a long time Danville resident and a former student of SRVHS I spent many years on and around those resting grounds - and the others that likely exist on the school grounds. We found many arrowheads on our property on Love Lane and I'm sure the whole valley is full of evidence of past civilizations just a few feet below our streets and homes.

The talk of curses and bad "ju ju" diminishes these lives and their contributions to our rich history. As a person with Cherokee ancestors on both sides, it's insulting.

It would be such a beautiful lesson to our children to honor these early residents of our beautiful valley if there would be a monument of some kind and a blessing of the grounds by an appropriate individual as part of the dedication of the new building.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Danville
on Aug 13, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Karrie, very well put! I do believe that as the ground needs to be "packed" down to a certain level when construction is being completed above, that to a certain depth the remains are harvested to avoid crushing them. At some point they can stop digging and leave the rest where they are as they are below the area that will be packed down.

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Posted by Larry
a resident of Danville
on Aug 14, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I wonder if they have done a drag of the area with a sonic finding device to determine if there are more remains? They can find bones/bodies under concrete by doing this, can't imagine why they couldn't find them in the earthen areas they're excavating. There are liable to be additional remains on the fringes of the actual construction that could be unearthed and allow them to remain with their family members/loved ones in a common plot when re-interred.

I thought it was rather heartless how the District pointed out the cost implications of the effort and the possible cost increases due to delays of construction and the completion of the project as major factors in this event.

It's hard to believe that earlier construction hadn't had similar results that may have gone unmentioned in the past. The "small gym" (which was built as part of the WPA Projects) that was previously on the site presently being excavated MUST HAVE yielded similar finds, it's just that we weren't as aware of the sanctity of such things until the more recent past.

I'm also curious about the assertion that the remains were "somewhere between 250 and 2,000 years old". Aren't they going to perform some carbon dating tests on these remains to determine exactly how old they are, and wouldn't that indicate whether or not there may be other remains at lower levels? If the remains were from that wide a time span, I believe 2,000 years would pre-date Miwok tribes in this area, and if so, the find may be even more significant than initially thought.

And to a degree, I question the comment that they could determine sex by the brow ridge... I don't think this is a proven fact- maybe in conjunction with the sciatic notch data, but not in and of itself.

Has anyone involved in this thought about contacting anyone in the Biological Community at LLNL to see if they could lend a hand with aging the remains? After all, the Lab does a lot of work with Science in Schools, and this is DEFINITELY Science IN SCHOOL!

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Posted by sharon
a resident of Danville
on Aug 14, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Larry - that's a great idea! An opportunity to both ackowledge the sacred nature of this find as well as giving students the opportunity to learn carbon dating, etc. would be some posittives to help offset the negatives of disturbing this resting place.

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Posted by Geoff Gillette
Danville Weekly reporter
on Aug 14, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Geoff Gillette is a registered user.

Thanks for the comments. I believe they will be carbon dating the remains before reinterring them.

Also, to be fair, I asked the school district how the dig would affect their timeline and what if any additional cost there would be. It was not something they were complaining about.

Robbie Lyng was very respectful of the situation.

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Posted by drew
a resident of Alamo
on Aug 19, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I believe that the Bodies found should remain there and have the building on top of it. Obviously not hurting the bodies at all but just leaving them alone. The new gym will be a youthful growing place and I'm pretty sure the Indian's wouldn't mind the youth center being there where children will dwell and grow. The Indian's were all about close family and supporting one another.

Go Wolves!

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Posted by Thomas Cochran
a resident of Danville
on Sep 1, 2009 at 10:29 am

I think we should leave the remains alone. We should stop any further excavating of the bodies found on SRVHS site. It is disrespectful to move bones to the cemetary in another place where they should not be. If someone put them here, they should remain here in their final resting place. We should cover up what has been uncovered and leave it in peace.
I agree with Larry that they should use a sonic finding device to see how many bodies are there so we have more information on how to move forward in honoring these people.

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Posted by Raven
a resident of Del Amigo Continuation High School
on Sep 1, 2009 at 11:15 am

In my oppinion they should leave the bodies where they are. Its disrespectful to the bodies and their families. They were buried so that they can rest in peace. So leave them be!!!! And build the gym somewhere else.

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Posted by Sergio Fernandez
a resident of Del Amigo Continuation High School
on Sep 1, 2009 at 11:17 am

I believe that the archeologists shouldleave the remains in the ground. rebury what they have already found. The school should build the gym elsewhere or on top of the small gym. Relocating the bones is not right. The indians had rituals and practiceswe have no idea about. Remember, curiousty killed the cat

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Posted by YVETTEski
a resident of Del Amigo Continuation High School
on Sep 1, 2009 at 11:25 am

I believe that the resting ground should be left alone. They should have left it alone the second they found human remains. I feel that it's disturbing their rest to remove their bones. Its overly disrespectful to build things on someone's resting place. If construction continues, paranormal activity will start to occur. I am of Mexican and Samoan descent and it is common knowledge that negative consequences come to those who disturb the remains of those who deserve to rest in peace.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Samantha Smith
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2011 at 12:58 am

I'm not sure if Andrew Galvan reads these comments. If so, my daughter is a Galvan. She and I are having difficulties obtaining information regarding her Native American heritage. We would really appreciate any information or resources you would be willing to share. Samantha Smith.

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