Everything at This 4,500-Year-Old Site Was Removed—And Then Reburied

An unprecedented trove of artifacts and burials found at a development site were recently removed and reburied

Lowell Georgia/Corbis

A 4,500-year-old site containing 600 human burials, a ceremonial California condor burial and numerous artifacts has been destroyed in Marin County, Calif. Archaeologists worked on the site for over a year and a half, before the artifacts were removed and reburied in another location on the site.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

"This was a site of considerable archaeological value," said Dwight Simons, a consulting archaeologist who analyzed 7,200 bones, including the largest collection of bear bones ever found in a prehistoric site in the Bay Area. "My estimate of bones and fragments in the entire site was easily over a million, and probably more than that. It was staggering."

All of it, including stone tools and idols apparently created for trade with other tribes, was removed, reburied in an undisclosed location on site and apparently graded over, destroying the geologic record and ending any chance of future study, archaeologists said. Not a single artifact was saved.

Lost forever was a carbon-dated record in the soil layers of indigenous life going back approximately to the time the Great Pyramid of Giza was built in Egypt. It was, said several prominent archaeologists, the largest, best-preserved, most ethnologically rich American Indian site found in the Bay Area in at least a century.

This might seem like urban sprawl run amok, but the story is actually a lot more complicated than Good Archaeologists vs. Bad Developers. The actual decision to rebury the artifacts wasn’t left to the town or to the developers. The call was made by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the likely descendants of the ancient people who lived on the site. 

Under California state law, when an archaeological site like this is discovered, the developers have to stop working and bring in archaeologists to excavate the site. But those archaeologists have to be overseen by a designated American Indian monitor.   

The perspective of Greg Sarris, the chairman of the Graton Rancheria tribe, was vastly different from that of archaeologists who had worked the site. He told the San Francisco Chronicle

"Our policy is that those things belong to us, end of story," said Sarris, whose tribe recently opened the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park. "Let us worry about our own preservation. If we determine that they are sacred objects, we will rebury them because in our tradition many of those artifacts, be they beads, charm stones or whatever, go with the person who died. ... How would Jewish or Christian people feel if we wanted to dig up skeletal remains in a cemetery and study them? Nobody has that right."

Homes in the new development are expected to go on sale in the fall, starting at well over $1 million. 

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