Remains of 26 individuals uncovered at high school dig site | August 7, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - August 7, 2009

Remains of 26 individuals uncovered at high school dig site

Removal expected to last through end of August

by Geoff Gillette

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 26 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 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.


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