Archaeological History

First Appearance in Maps
The Emeryville Shellmound first appears on an historic US Coastal Survey map in 1859, as a distinct cone on the margin of the bay, adjacent to a willow thicket at the mouth of Temescal Creek Almost 40 feet high and some 350 feet in basal diameter, the mound was the largest of hundreds of mounds situated on the shores of San Francisco Bay, and one of the largest mounds in California. The site was known popularly at that time as a former Native American occupation and burial site, although it had not been occupied within the memory of living people. The Emeryville Shellmound was the largest of several large mounds near the mouth of Temescal Creek. A large house was built atop an adjacent mound in the 1850s. That mound and several others were leveled during subsequent historic activities in the area, including construction of a race track to the east of the Emeryville Shellmound. No archaeological investigations were performed on these other sites, although the locations of the remnants of several were noted during an early archaeological survey in 1902.

Amusement Park History
In 1876, an amusement park was founded at the Emeryville Shellmound site. Shellmound Park, as it came to be known, eventually included picnic grounds, shooting galleries on piers extending into the bay, a race track and several bars and dance pavilions. The huge shellmound was a centerpiece of the park. A stairway was built up the side of the mound, and the top of the cone was leveled to accommodate a large dance pavilion, which was sheltered from winds by a ring of cypress trees around the top of the mound. The Shellmound Park railway station, constructed on the adjacent railroad line (built in the 1870s), provided easy access for tourists, many of whom came from San Francisco by ferry and rail to use the park. Some of the trash from the site, including large numbers of bottles and many rifle shells from the shooting galleries, was dumped onto the bayshore along the edge of the park a few hundred feet west of the base of the cone, possibly under the piers that housed the shooting galleries. Archaeologists in 1999 rediscovered this historic trash deposit buried in the shellmound deposit.

Initial Excavation
In 1902, Max Uhle, an archaeologist associated with the new Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, approached the owner of Shellmound Park, for permission to conduct an archaeological investigation of the Emeryville Shellmound. Uhle excavated a trench and tunnel in the west side of the mound, to study a cross section of the deposit. The dance pavilion and surrounding trees on the crown of the mound prohibited investigation of its uppermost portion. Nonetheless, using pioneering stratigraphic methods and recovery techniques - as well as daring excavation techniques - Uhle obtained a mass of data and hundreds of artifacts. He noted distinctive strata, or layers, in the mound, and associated distinct artifact types and burial patterns with successive strata. Uhle interpreted his findings as evidence of steady cultural change and development over time. In contrast, other archaeologists of the time, notably A.L. Kroeber (University of California, Berkeley), known by some as the "father of California archaeology," maintained that California prehistory represented a long period of minimal cultural development by a primitive culture. Uhle soon left Berkeley. He went on to conduct seminal archaeological work in prehistoric Peruvian sites. His work at Emeryville is now recognized as extraordinary for its time, and his conclusions form the foundations of much of the subsequent archaeological work around the bay. Studies subsequently conducted on bird and animal bone samples collected by Uhle and later excavators establish that the site was occupied year-round, and provide a highly significant data base on human exploitation of the prehistoric fauna of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Further Excavation
In 1906 archaeologist Nels Nelson excavated an additional pit in the east side of the mound to complete Uhle's cross section. Nelson was a highly significant figure in Bay Region archaeology. His extensive and ambitious survey of San Francisco Bay between 1902 and 1904 preserved data on the locations of over 400 prehistoric shellmounds, many of which subsequently were destroyed by development without further study. Nelson's "Shellmounds of the San Francisco Bay" is a standard reference for Bay Region archaeologists even today. Nelson's work at Emeryville in 1906 was a model of precise method and documentation. Even the insignificant cost of his excavation was precisely documented, and itself stands as a commentary on the price of a century of change and development. The involvement of these early archaeologists at Emeryville lends additional significance to this remarkable site.

The Decline of the Park
Shellmound Park continued in operation until 1924. Prohibition undoubtedly contributed to the decline of the park, since liquor sales had provided a substantial part of its business. In 1924, the site was sold to the Williams Company, which proposed to build pigment and pesticide factories there. To provide level space for industrial construction, developers began grading away the shellmound. A topographic map made of the site just after grading had begun shows a steep sided cone situated against the railroad tracks on the east edge of what would be the central block of the later Bay Street Project. In 1924, W.E. Schenck, another archaeologist from UC Berkeley, observed and recovered artifacts and human remains as a steam shovel cut away the side of the mound and thousands of cubic yards of shell midden were hauled away. Like Uhle, Schenck observed distinct physical strata in the mound. He noted evidence of several hundred burials, but could record only limited data on these, as most were observed only as they were shoveled away or dumped from trucks. Once the mound was leveled to the bayside plain (perhaps 11 feet above sea level), Schenck hand-excavated 3 trenches in the remaining basal deposit, and recovered hundreds more artifacts and several burials. Based on his observations and excavations, Schenck differed with Uhle's findings: although he noted differing burial patterns, he maintained that there was little evidence of cultural change over time in the mound.

Paint & Pesticide Plants
The construction of paint and pesticide plants not only destroyed the part of the Emeryville Shellmound that had formed the cone, but also damaged the layers of the site that lay below the ground surface. Material from the cone was graded away to fill low areas to the south. Midden also was used as a foundation for Shellmound Street, which was constructed on fill deposited along what was then the margin of the bay. Archaeologists discovered in 1999 that graded material from the cone had been pushed out over remnant basal layers of the Emeryville Shellmound, over a Shellmound Park trash dump dating to the turn of the century, and over another much later prehistoric archaeological deposit located south of the big cone, closer to Temescal Creek. Plant construction - foundations and utilities - also directly damaged the remaining basal deposits of the Emeryville Shellmound. Industrial operations on the site during the subsequent 6 decades undoubtedly damaged the remnant of the site. Some foundations extended through the deposit into underlying bay muds. In 1999, buried pipelines and foundations at several locations were found adjacent to otherwise intact human burials.

Rediscovery of Deposits
There was much active industrial activity in Emeryville in the 5 or 6 decades after 1924. While many archaeologists knew that basal remnants of the Emeryville Shellmound still were present at the site, whether any material remained intact was unknown. The significant intact deposits remaining at the Emeryville Shellmound were rediscovered in 1999.