Chronology & Culture History
About 100 samples of charcoal, animal bone and organic soils from the Emeryville Shellmound were subjected to radiocarbon dating. These dates and the physical relationships among layers of the site, help archaeologists to understand activities during each period of occupation and how these activities changed over time. It must be understood that some of the chronological periods are represented by only small archaeological samples, so we can only speculate about the periods overall.

The period after about 0 BC is not well-represented at the big mound: only the margins of the site are left to represent this time, since the part of the mound above the surface had been graded away long ago. In effect, after looking at the base of the big mound which dates between 2,800 and about 1,800 years ago, and the edges of that mound which are a few hundred years younger, we jump forward in time to a 2nd smaller mound, which was occupied during the few hundred years shortly before the arrival of Spanish explorers in California.

Ca. 800 BC
  • First occupation of the Emeryville Shellmound site. This date is based on multiple Carbon-14 (C14) samples taken in 1999 from the base of the big mound.
  • Shellfish were being used, but may not have been as important in the diet as other animal foods. The deposit from this period contains abundant large mammal bone.
  • Large cutting tools or spear points of chert are relatively common.
Ca. 400 BC to 0 BC
  • Mound grows to a height of about 2.4 meters (8 feet) with a fairly shallow contour; "cone" has not yet begun to form.
  • Main part of the Emeryville Shellmound was graded down to this level as the result of industrial activities beginning in 1924. Material at the ground surface at the time of the 1999 investigation date to this period.
  • Projectile point types indicate that spears or darts, rather than bow and arrow, were used for hunting. Projectile points and cutting tools of local chert, as well as imported obsidian, were in use.
  • Predominant shellfish appears to be mussel and oyster; however, shell in the area that would have been the base of the large mound is crushed and decomposed, and provides little opportunity for analysis.
  • Animals represented in the diet include elk, antelope, deer, bear, sea otter, whales, and a wide variety of fish and waterfowl.
  • Many graves are deposited in the mound.
  • Large number of infant graves.
  • At least 2 examples of death by warfare: human burials with embedded projectile points.
Ca. 0 BC to 400 AD
  • Mound probably began to rise into its later cone form.
  • Deposit continues to expand horizontally, mostly to the north and south and more slowly to the east and west. These margin areas survived grading 1924 and were investigated in 1999.
  • Little evidence of this period in the central mound area of the site; most of the deposit from this period and later was graded away in 1924.
  • Substantial use of mussel in the small area sampled for this period.
Ca. 400 AD to 800 AD
  • Temescal Creek floods over the southern base of the mound, carries off some of the deposit and seals some deposits around the margins of the mound under a layer of stream gravel and silt.
  • Arm of site continues to grow southward, or a 2nd smaller occupation site is established south of what was then the course of Temescal Creek
  • No evidence about this period in the area of the central mound, as the deposit from this period was graded away in the 1920s.
  • Bow and arrow come into use, probably replacing the earlier spear and dart.
  • In Central California generally, acorns become an important staple food during this period. Relatively little use of acorns is seen in the floral assemblage at this time in Emeryville, but this period is not well represented in the remnant of the site.
Ca. 800 to 1200 AD
  • Period represented by only 2 sample units on site, so conclusions are speculative.
  • Areas east, southwest and southeast of the big cone are occupied.
  • This period probably was represented by the (destroyed) upper strata of the big mound.
  • Possible increased use of clams and reduced use of mussels during this period.
Ca. AD 1250
  • Large cone may have been abandoned, possibly during long periods of drought.
  • No archaeological deposit from this period survives at Emeryville.
Ca. AD 1400 to 1650
  • A new settlement is established a short distance south of the big cone.
  • Clam and oyster possibly are more important than mussel in the diet.
  • Small arrow points indicate use of bow and arrow in hunting.
  • Deer, whale, elk, sea otter continue in use.
Ca. AD 1650 to 1876
  • No archaeological evidence has been found of Native American occupation in Emeryville during this period; Shellmound has been abandoned by the beginning of this period, or deposits relating to this time have been destroyed.
  • By 1800, Spanish settlement of the area has resulted in depopulation of most Native sites.
  • Emeryville site area is a willow marsh. A house is built on a nearby mound in the 1840s, and there are reports of excavation of burials from the mounds.
AD 1876-1924
  • Shellmound Park operates at the site. The top of the big cone is leveled to accommodate a dance pavilion.
  • Archaeologist Max Uhle conducts a major archaeological excavation and concludes that the site represents a long continuum of cultural change. His work is confirmed by Nels Nelson in another smaller excavation in 1906.
AD 1924-1998
  • The mound is leveled in 1924 for a paint factory. Archaeologist Egbert Schenck observes as 700 human remains are removed by steam shovels; he later conducts an excavation in the base of the mound. He concludes that Emeryville culture did not change over time at the site.
  • Factory expands and continues to operate until 1998.
AD 1999
  • The underground base of the Emeryville Shellmound is rediscovered as the City of Emeryville Redevelopment Agency prepares to clean up the industrial legacy of hazardous materials and redevelop the factory site.
  • URS Corporation archaeologists conduct archaeological excavation at Emeryville Shellmound, with Native American observers.