Human remains discovered at 4th Street construction site

Simon Greenhill/Staff

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Human remains, possibly those of an Ohlone Indian, were uncovered last month at a Fourth Street construction site — right outside the boundaries of a city-designated historic landmark, the West Berkeley Shellmound.

The remains, discovered March 29, have not yet been confirmed as Native American, said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko in an email. The state appointed Andy Galvan, an Ohlone descendant, as the most likely descendant of the individual, and he can therefore make recommendations to the property owner on the treatment or disposition of the remains.

Jamestown, the property owner, “is performing further archaeological studies of the property and has enlisted a member of the Ohlone tribe to monitor future excavation work,” said Jamestown spokesperson Lauren Jennings in a statement.

According to Corrina Gould, co-founder of Indian People Organizing for Change, or IPOC, the construction site — adjacent to 1919 Fourth St., near Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto — was on a block undergoing redevelopment. The construction is contentious because the city gave construction permits to developers in 2014 without requiring the site to undergo an environmental impact report, Gould said.

“My best hope is that they stop development altogether,” Gould said.

Chakko could not be reached for comment regarding the environmental impact report as of press time.

The boundaries of the West Berkeley Shellmound site remain contested, but old city documents designate the landmark site as the general area from Second Street to Fourth Street and University to Hearst avenues, Gould said. The site where the remains were found fall outside this boundary.

“I am not certain that there is a direct relationship between the Berkeley Shellmound … and the new finding,” said Allen Pastron, an archaeological consultant for the nearby 1900 Fourth St. parking lot project, who helped determine that no historically significant remnants of the shellmound existed beneath the lot.

In October, the Indigenous Land Action Committee, or ILAC, occupied the Gill Tract, a university-owned property, in protest of UC Berkeley’s plans to develop it. ILAC asserted that the land belonged to the Ohlone tribe, although campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said at the time that neither ILAC nor members of the Ohlone tribe made attempts to participate in the development’s planning process.

ILAC member Hank Herrera, who identifies as half-Ohlone, said he was not surprised that human remains were recently discovered at the site adjacent to 1919 Fourth St., considering how close it is to the West Berkeley Shellmound boundaries.

“It would be nice if the people who claim the title to stolen land begin to realize that the Bay Area land they claim to own was stolen property from hundreds of years ago,” Herrera said.

Gould organized a Sunday prayer vigil with about 60 attendants, who gathered on the corner of Fourth Street and Hearst Avenue to pay homage to their possible ancestor.

“I know that when we were there yesterday praying, we accepted that we were praying for one of our ancestors,” Herrera said.

According to Chakko, the city will be kept informed of next steps determined by Galvan, Jamestown and an on-site archaeologist.


Contact Roann Pao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao.