Community-Based Participatory Archaeology with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe at the Sunol Water Temple Site, CA ALA-565

Primary Investigator: Alicia Hedges and Arianna Heathcote

Faculty Sponsor: Alan Levanthal

As new graduate students in the Applied Anthropology program at San Jose State, we found ourselves in the exciting position of being a part of community based participatory research. During the fall 2017 semester, we spoke with Alan Leventhal concerning his past and current work with local tribes and our interest in getting involved.  From this meeting with Leventhal, we were invited to Sunol by the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe to assist on the excavation of their ancestral dead at CA-ALA-565, affectionally called the Sunol Water Temple site as it rests near the historic Sunol Water Temple. We were graciously trained on proper procedures and decorum by SJSU alumnus Brieann DeOrnellas and graduate student Alisha Ragland, as they had long time experience on the site and with the Tribe. It was comforting to discover that the Tribe encouraged a learning environment and welcomed new-comers recommended by Leventhal.

There were many important discoveries made at the site. One of them, a Kuksu pendant (anthropomorphic abalone pendants meant to be worn around the neck), would be the stimulus of Alicia’s M.A. project which addresses the geospatial distribution of Kuksu pendants in the Bay Area associated with the Muwekma Ohlone. Other artifacts of note were found in the matrix of Burial 49, where three individuals were interred with shell beads and five beautifully preserved obsidian projectile points. Mortars and pestles of enormous size were found throughout the site indicating mass ritual and represented the intense labor required to manufacture these grave goods. By way of oral histories, the Muwekma Ohlone know that this site was a burial site specifically for those of importance in their society. This claim was supported by the types of grave goods associated with the burials. In this site we also witnessed cremains (cremated remains), which was a component of the traditional Muwekma Ohlone practice for warrior burials.

This site had beautiful preservation that allowed us to discern a great amount of detail about each burial. After excavation, the burials were drawn, photographed, documented, 3D photographed, and sent to local osteologists for examinations. We look forward to the compiled report that will soon tell us even more about the Muwekma Ohlone’s ancestral dead.

3 thoughts on “Community-Based Participatory Archaeology with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe at the Sunol Water Temple Site, CA ALA-565

  1. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for the update and I look forward to more.

  2. Monica V. Arellano

    Very well-written and informative article. I really enjoyed reading it. Well done Alicia and Arianna!

  3. Johnny Dominguez Jr.

    WOW! A Kuksu Pendant finding!! BIG MEDICINE to Our People. Blessings on the Journey.