Shellmound Introduction

South Bayfront Archaeology Project
Main PictureThe South Bayfront Archaeology Project was conducted by archaeologists at URS Corporation, under contract to the City of Emeryville Redevelopment Agency. The South Bayfront Project is an ambitious redevelopment project in the heart of Emeryville. The redevelopment program removed a polluting industrial site, cleaned up toxic materials, and prepared the parcel for redevelopment as a commercial / residential complex.

The South Bayfront project site contained a large industrial plant site from 1924 through 1999, which was demolished by the Agency in 1999. During the course of demolition, workers at the site rediscovered remnants of the Emeryville Shellmound, a prehistoric Ohlone Indian habitation site, long thought destroyed by the building of the industrial plant in 1924.

Photos of the leveling of the Emeryville Shellmound in 1924 certainly suggest this destruction. However, the small size of construction equipment in the 1920s and the different construction techniques used at that time meant that there was far less destruction of the native ground surface than modern construction methods typically inflict. In fact, the disturbance of underlying soils was far less extensive and complete than might have been expected. In 1999, during the removal of the industrial plant, archaeologists were called to the site and it was determined portions of the Emeryville Shellmound still were intact there.

Archaeological Site
The Emeryville Shellmound, a massive archaeological shell midden deposit (dark, highly organic soil containing a high concentration of human food waste remains, including shellfish) was one of a complex of 5 or 6 mounds along the mouth of the perennial Temescal Creek, on the east shore of San Francisco Bay between Oakland and Berkeley. From a time long before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1700s, groups of Native Americans lived at this spot by the bay. Originally reported as over 60 feet high and some 350 feet in diameter, the mound constituted a small hill, and was physically linked to several adjacent mounds by extensive lower-lying midden deposits. Its peak undoubtedly provided sweeping views of the bay and the Golden Gate.

The Native Americans constructed the Shellmound and it is comprised largely of shellfish and animal remains, the remnants of millions of meals consumed at the site by the prehistoric residents. Evidence indicates that the site was a large village, occupied from at least 2,800 years ago to 400 years ago. It was also used by Native Americans as a resting-place for their dead. The site was recognized as an archaeological deposit from the time of the 1st historically recorded settlement of the East Bay, and was subjected to some of the earliest archaeological excavations in the United States.

Shellmound Park
The site is also the location of the once famous Shellmound Park, a large amusement area that operated from the 1870s though 1924. The park contained a racetrack, 2 dance halls, bars, a carousel, bowling alley, and a world class shooting range where national competitions were regularly held. At the time, Shellmound Park was quite an attraction, and was a popular destination for many people from all over the San Francisco Bay Area. With the passage of prohibition in the 1920s, visitation fell off dramatically and the park fell into decline and was sold.

MoundArchaeological Excavation
The demolition of the industrial site and hazardous material remediation phases of the South Bayfront Project were completed in 1999, and at the time these activities were viewed likely to result in extensive impacts to the archaeological site. Cleanup of the hazardous materials and future development at the site would result in the probable destruction of much of the deposit. The City of Emeryville Redevelopment Agency therefore sponsored an archaeological excavation (data recovery) of a sample of the deposit, including mechanical trenching to recover data on site formation, geomorphology and stratigraphy.

This data recovery program was carried out during the summer and fall of 1999. Related analyses are currently underway. Final results will be posted to this webpage in the near future.

This webpage will provide the public a window into the past of the City of Emeryville; a window overlooking the early beginnings of the city, and 2 thousand years further into the past.