Free-Floating Hostility

Monday, February 13, 2006

Monument my Ass

A few months ago while I was waiting for the train in Berkeley, which is in fact my new vocation, I got to witness a reburial ceremony. A (white) representative of the city began shooing us away from the place where the square pattern of sidewalk was replaced with a square of plywood, shouting that she and the man and woman who accompanied her were going to perform a ceremony. She asked us to be respectful and not watch, but we pretty much all gawked. It was over quickly; the man knelt and held something up toward the sky. Then they buried it and covered it over with plywood again.

The city official stuck around to explain to us what had happened. The train station abuts the parking lot for Spenger's Fish Grotto--one of a number of Ohlone burial grounds in the Bay Area that have with increasing notoriety been developed into shopping malls and the like. This was not how the city official represented the situation to us; she said that in the renovation of the "station" an artifact had been turned up and they were legally required to rebury it. She told us the spot with the plywood would be made into a monument when the construction was completed. Imagine my surprise, then, when I returned from Winter Break to find the plywood had been replaced with this:

That would have been more dramatic with a better picture, I realize, but I was in a rush this morning. Anyway, the point is, I looked this up. The Ohlone were a collection of tribes who lived along the Bay for at least 1,000 years (and I've read as high as 4,000). I haven't managed to find out their ultimate fate after their displacement by the Conquistadors. Migration? Genocide? Maybe it's a mystery analagous to the disappearence of the Anasazi, but probably not given the overlap with European colonization.

The burial sights are man-made hills where the dead were buried, and the sites marked with earth, shells and other objects. The archaeological term shellmound has come into common use to describe it, but apparently that can also mean like, a kitchen dump. The shellmound by the train station was, I read in one disreputable source, once 100 feet wide and 30 feet high. A large shellmound was uncovered c. 1999 during the construction of a shopping mall in Emeryville, the next town over. Here's a Chronicle feature on a documentary made by a Berkeley J-school student about the construction of the mall. The salient sentence: "Some 300 bodies were reburied in an unmarked grave on the mall site. About 100 were taken from what later became the parking lot behind a Victoria's Secret store." There is a display on the history of the Ohlone there, but no mention of the dead.

I may be a scientist, but I find this creepy. Oh, and repugnant.

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