Remnants of Ohlone, Yokut culture found beneath campus
THE SANTA CLARA
April 3, 2014
What has been labeled by a university archaeologist as the most intensive excavation ever conducted on a California mission continued this past month.
The dig on the Santa Clara campus yielded comprehensive information about the Native American population that lived in the area over 200 years ago. Among the artifacts and features found are parts of at least three adobe houses, pottery, various metal objects and pits that were filled up with trash, according to Lee Panich, an archaeologist and assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology.
Fieldwork in the area began in May 2012 on the north side of Franklin Street between Alviso Street and The Alameda, in order to build the new parking structure. Another excavation took place in front of the Mission Church as a condition for the construction of the new Palm Drive.
The university’s land was originally home to Mission Santa Clara de Asís, which housed Native Americans between the 1780s and 1840s. According to Panich, roughly 1,400 Native Americans, one or two missionaries and several soldiers occupied the mission during any given year.
The Native American population consisted mainly of various Ohlone groups from as far as Santa Cruz and Livermore, and some Yokut people from the San Joaquin Valley. These groups constructed all of the buildings and crafts at Mission Santa Clara, on top of tending the fields and caring for the livestock.
According to Panich, archaeological remains related to the mission’s populations were previously unearthed during the construction of the new Jesuit Residence and Lucas Hall.
“Until now, it is probably the best preserved Native American neighborhood at any California Mission as far as we know, so it a really significant site,” Panich said.
Other artifacts such as shell and glass beads along with gaming items were also among the unearthed objects, according to Santa Clara’s Cultural Resources Manager and campus archaeologist Linda Hylkema.
Additionally, two copper cooking pots found were the first to be archaeologically recovered from a mission-era California excavation.
“We have a few of what we think are updraft kilns used for firing pottery, we think we have food storage, and we have what might be a semi-subterranean dwelling, like a pit house or a sweat house,” Hylkema said.
The Mission Period sites on and around campus, including two burial grounds, have yielded revelations about Native American mission life.
“The missionaries constructed adobe barracks where the Native Americans would live, but the archaeology on campus actually shows that they also lived in their traditional thatched dwellings,” Panich said. “They found the remains of one under where the Leavey School of Business is now, which is the only one documented archaeologically in California.”
There have been efforts to pay tribute to this historic neighborhood. In the new parking structure, the original location of an unearthed adobe house is outlined in the pavement, and a commemorative plaque will be placed there.
“This site already has made huge contributions to colonial studies in California,” Hylkema said. “I could not even say how many research papers could come out of this excavation. The potential is huge.”
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.