One factor geologists should do, in any metropolis on the earth, is to erase the human modifications imposed on the bottom to allow them to see the panorama beneath. At any time when I do this in Oakland, mentally eradicating the buildup of 150 years of buildings and growth since Horace Carpentier (boo! hiss!) got here throughout the Bay and staked out his downtown grid, I envision a large grassland and wildflower-covered hills, punctuated by thick stands of oaks close to the Bay and a hanging redwood grove round Redwood Peak: the Ohlone world.
The Ohlones didn’t do plenty of constructing or digging on their land, just a bit bit right here and there, just like the ocher quarry up by Holy Names College. They could have scooped out swimming holes within the creeks close to their sweathouses. They left grinding holes, from centuries of pounding acorns into meal, the place the rock was good. However they did make one form of huge factor, they and their ancestors — shellmounds. Geologists, be warned: one among these would possibly idiot you.
Shellmound close to Mill Valley, 1909 (supply)
The identify is undignified, however the shellmounds may be considered the native model of the tells within the Center Jap nations, the stays of successive mud-brick villages that dot the traditional floodplains of the Fertile Crescent. The shellmounds might have begun as refuse heaps at seasonal campsites the place ample seafood and different assets supported generations of feasts, however the bigger ones got here to function burying grounds and ceremonial websites of regional significance. They turned sacred. There have been hundreds of shellmounds across the Bay. Oakland had some too.
When Europeans got here, eradicating the Ohlones and taking the land, the shellmounds had been now not residing locations. The settlers noticed them as a uncooked useful resource and began to dig them up within the 1850s. The mounds had good soil. The shells had been mined and burned for lime, or crushed for roadbeds. The bones had been dumped; artifacts had been taken for souvenirs by generations of youngsters and passers-by, to be misplaced or damaged. Museums hoarded some collections. The topic is a bitter one for the Ohlones and different Indigenous peoples, who nonetheless stay amongst us and deserve higher.
Wooden and Munro-Fraser’s historical past of Alameda County, printed in 1883, famous: “At some distant interval there had been Indian camps upon the northern financial institution of the San Antonio Creek, and the mounds, composed primarily of oyster-shells, aren’t but completely obliterated.” San Antonio Creek was the brackish inlet the place the Oakland harbor is immediately; see it on the inset of the 1869 Classes map.
On the purpose on the east finish of the creek, a shellmound is proven on the primary map. Halley’s historical past of Alameda County, printed in 1876, made be aware of its presence within the 1850s: “Shell Mound, the residence of Captain E. F. Rodgers, on the head of the estuary, turned famous as a nursery and for the excellence of its fruit orchard.”
It turned a navy website throughout the Civil Battle years (which can be when this place took on the identify “Union Level”), however the mound survived to be recorded in 1889 when the land was being subdivided because the Shell Mound Tract, on the intersection of Livingston and Water Streets.
When Nels Nelson, a UC Berkeley archeologist, printed his survey of the Bay space’s shellmounds in 1909, he famous a number of in Oakland.
The map isn’t completely dependable on the scale of publication (or the scan preserved on-line), however he situated the cluster of huge ones on the mouth of Temescal Creek, identified collectively because the Emeryville Shellmound. He famous three extra that had as soon as existed within the Elmhurst space and one other on the mouth of Brooklyn Creek, straight beneath the O in “Oakland.” Maybe that final one was actually the Union Level shellmound.
Remarkably, that location, 1901 Livingston Road, is a city-owned parcel, a triangular gravel lot by railroad tracks that’s now leased to a development agency.
Maybe the Ohlones would take it again. They may make it a pleasant adjunct to Union Level Park, the Embarcadero Cove Marina assortment of historic buildings, and the artwork workshops on this modest district.
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