Morphological and Semantic Challenges of Confirming Cleft Palate In a Case Study from CA-ALA-329

Primary Investigator:   Erik Savage

Faculty Sponsor:   Dr. Elizabeth Weiss

Burial 92, a young adult Native American woman from the CA-ALA-329 site, is recognizable by the eruption of a central incisor and a small extra tooth in her upper lip area. The roof of her mouth is similarly divided into right and left halves, and these abnormalities have been interpreted as a skeletal example of cleft palate. Using photos of Burial 92 as evidence, a dentist proposed that the unusual features could be explained without assuming she had a cleft palate. This prompted a new review of the physical evidence to reconsider the earlier interpretation.

This new investigation identified physical evidence that was inconsistent with clinical “cleft palate”.  Clinical literature suggests divisions should be smooth-edged, uninterrupted, and found in predictable locations. However, Burial 92’s divisions contain jagged edges and small sections that appeared intact. The location of the division in her lip area is more consistent with MCL (median cleft lip) than typical cleft palate. Typical presentation in the mouth is symmetrical, but her right maxilla was more affected than her left. Hyperdontia is often associated with cleft palate, but Burial 92’s extra teeth may have forced the incisor through a lip area that had been intact. In addition, the evidence of infection in the roof of the mouth might be at least indirectly caused by trauma resulting from these unusual eruptions. Given these facts, the additional assumption of a pre-existing cleft palate is unwarranted.

A shared, interdisciplinary understanding of “cleft palate” would improve the consistency of classifications. The clinical term “cleft palate” applies only to a specific set of facial structures that normally fuse early in the development of an embryo. Ironically, this means the term “cleft palate” may deliberately exclude many palates that are arguably cleft. Early childhood diagnosis and treatment is problematic for bioarchaeologists, who rely on skeletal evidence and confirmed examples for comparison. More collaboration between clinicians and anthropologists could improve consistency, especially by the development of differential diagnostic criteria focusing on skeletal presentations.

A poster summarizing the results of this investigation received the 1st Place award in the Student Poster Competition at the 2017 Southwestern Anthropological Association (SWAA) conference.


Investigations into Paleopathology of Unique Individual in CA-Ala-329

Title of Project(s)/Program:Burial 97: A Pain in the Head, Neck and Chest

Primary Investigator: Denise Frazier

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Elizabeth Weiss


In the population of California hunter-gathers, CA-Ala-329, there is an adult male (burial 97) that has an infection on the mastoid process, sternum and severe osteoarthritis on the vertebrae. Burial 97 is the only individual with an infection on the mastoid process within CA-Ala-329. This individual has particularly severe osteoarthritis on the cervical (neck) vertebrae with the fusion of C-2 and C-3 and the most affected sections occurring on the right side. Osteoarthritis is typically seen more severely in the lumbar (lower back) vertebrae, than the cervical vertebrae. Burial 97 exhibits only slight signs of osteoarthritis in the joints of the long bones, an anomaly when compared to the severity in the vertebrae; however, severe osteoarthritis is found on the wrist bones.  Medical and anthropological literature will be reviewed to recreate this individual’s activity patterns, identify the probable cause of infection, the infections’ effect on quality of life and its possible correlation to the individual’s osteoarthritis pattern. CA-Ala-329 has been studied for approximately fifty years and is still providing new information. Many researchers have looked at the population as a whole, but studies of individuals provide a closer look at daily life. This work allows for the continued accumulation of data on this population as well as providing a comparative study for future academics.







NUMU Exhibit Features Film of Stories from American Indian Urban Relocation Project

Principal Investigators: Jan English-Lueck, A.J. Faas, Charlotte Sunseri

Project Members:

Graduate Students:  Gianina Bebb, Leah Grant, Angela Moniz, Veronica Saldivar

Undergraduate Students:  Kris Cameron, Jillian Ferini, Aaron van Valen

Alumna:  Auda Velazquez-Rivera

SJSU Staff:  Teri Graziani (IRC)

Project Partners: New Museum of Los Gatos (NUMU), Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley


Exhibit opening event participants Teri Graziani, Leah Grant, Jan English-Lueck, Jeff Gregor, and Alisha Ragland.
On November 4, 2016 an exhibit opened at the NUMU (New Museum of Los Gatos) entitled Cement Prairie: The History and Legacy of the 1952 American Indian Urban Relocation Program which was the result of collaboration among a team of SJSU anthropologists, the NUMU curator Amy Long, and leadership at the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley. Stories of the experiences of American Indians relocated to San Jose from distant home reservations were told through filmed oral narratives and historical archival materials gathered from the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, the National Archives at San Bruno, and many private photo collections.

The Urban Relocation Project (or Indian Relocation Act of 1956) was a federal program of voluntary relocation of young adults from reservations to urban centers. The program was advertised as a means of accessing work opportunities away from the reservation yet driven by goals of assimilation. Despite the prior attempts at Indian assimilation through boarding schools, many joined the program to assert control over their futures and opportunities. The program resulted in several unintended consequences, from cultural fluorescence and pan-Indian identity to regional and then national collective action and organizing for social change. The program heightened awareness concerning the struggles for self-determination experienced by tribes who were not recognized by the federal government, as was solidarity for civil rights concerns of American Indians more broadly. Relocatees to San Jose were moved from reservations of sovereign tribes into the traditional homeland of the Muwekma Ohlone, which at times led to tensions. A sister exhibit Back from Extinction: Muwekma Ohlone’s Heritage, History, and Legacy at NUMU tells the story of the Bay Area tribe whose federal recognition was previously terminated, and who live on to be vital contributors to the American Indian community of the Bay Area.

The Cement Prairie exhibit featured a 20-minute film of oral histories and relocation narratives gathered by SJSU anthropologists. Teri Graziani and the Instructional Resource Center at SJSU finalized the video cuts and produced the film for educational use, the museum exhibit, and a YouTube channel on this topic. The narratives in this film highlight the issues of American Indian experiences in maintaining culture and making community, their sense of home and process of moving to San Jose, and conflicts or issues faced and overcome in this process. The stories of those relocated from reservations to urban areas reveal the lasting legacies of this program for strengthening pan-Indian identity, establishing community-building events such as Bay Area powwows, and organizing for social justice (e.g. American Indian Alliance, American Indian Movement, etc.). Beyond the exhibit, the results of this study will include an archive of relocatees’ oral histories, further inquiry to understand the experiences of those who returned to their home reservations after joining the Relocation Program, and continued partnership with initiatives of the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley.

Both exhibits are open for visitors through June 2017, and a special event on January 12 will feature a panel discussion with a number of the San Jose relocatee community.

The SJSU-produced film “Voices of American Indian Urban Relocation in San Jose, CA” can be viewed online:

The Cement Prairie exhibit was featured in the San Jose Metro, and the review is available:


numu-left numu-right
NUMU corridors of the “Cement Prairie” (top) and “Back from Extinction” (bottom) exhibits.

The Skeletal Biology and Chronological Placement of Prehistoric Site: CA-SCL-134

Primary Investigators: Brieann DeOrnellas and Alan Leventhal.

Faculty Sponsors: Dr. Charlotte Sunseri and Mr. Alan Leventhalbrieann-deornellas

Background: In 2006, under the direction of Alan Leventhal, a team of SJSU anthropology students and anthropology Alumni Susan Morley and Glen Wilson along with members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe conducted an archaeological data and burial recovery program on a site located along Calabazas Creek in the City of Santa Clara.  The site was previously recorded years prior to the recovery program and is designated CA-SCL-134.  Since the recovery program concluded this population of 24+ ancestral Muwekma Ohlone burials have been cleaned and informally inventoried by several SJSU students working with Alan Leventhal, however no comprehensive skeletal analysis had ever been conducted or the cemetery population dated.

As a result undergraduate anthropology student Brieann DeOrnellas enrolled in Leventhal’s Fall 2016 Anthropology 195 class decided to undertake the skeletal biological analysis of this ancestral population which has since been safely curated in the department’s curatorial facility.  Furthermore, with written permission from the Muwekma Ohlone Tribal leadership small samples from these burials were sent to Dr. Eric Bartelink (CSU, Chico) for Stable Isotope, to Drs. Brian Kemp and Cara Monroe from Washington State University and University of Oklahoma, Norman and to Dr. Ripan Mahli from the Departments of Anthropology and Animal Biology, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for Ancient DNA, and to Dr. Jelmer Eerkens at U.C. Davis for Strontium studies.  A co-authored final report will publish the results of the skeletal analysis, stable isotope, ancient DNA, Strontium, and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) C14 dating of this population.  This final report will also include an ethnohistory of about the tribe’s relationship to the Santa Clara Valley region written by the Muwekma Ohlone Tribal leadership and language committee.

College of Social Sciences Foundation Research Grant:

In order to accomplish the AMS dating goals stated above, Brieann applied for a grant from the College of Social Sciences Research Foundation this past Fall 2016 semester.  She was awarded $2500.00 for her research proposal for the AMS dating of up to nine burials and the resulting dates will be updated on this profile.  The results from this collaborative study will also be presented at future professional conferences.

Political Economic Discourses & Enduring Cooperation in Post-Disaster Ecuador

Principal Investigator: AJ Faas
Student Researcher: Briza Diaz
Funding: SJSU Undergraduate Research Awards ($1000)19991102_Tung_large
Funding is being used to support anthropology undergraduate student, Briza Diaz, in an analysis of the minutes and resolutions (“actas”) of a small post-disaster resettlement, Pusuca, of smallholding agriculturalists in highland Ecuador. AJ Faas collected these data–155 pages handwritten by the village council secretary over four years (2008-2011)–as part of an ongoing study of recovery from the 2006 eruptions of Mt. Tungurahua. One core concern of the project is the development of two principal recovery strategies in the resettlement. The first involves working through local Andean practices of communal labor (known as “mingas”). The second is to promote individualistic, capitalist, “entrepreneurial” initiatives. The Andean people in this resettlement present their culture and practices like minga as moral, communitarian alternatives to capitalist greed. However, the resettlement agencies appear to change minga practice to meet their own objectives–altering the rules and conditions of participation, though it is not always obvious how and where they insert these new norms. Likewise, in spite of the communitarian ideals of the community, locals often enthusiastically volunteer for entrepreneurial economic programs offered by the resettlement agencies. Often, local peasant ambitions and desires are produced and invoked as if they were locally derived, while at the same time being co-created by dominant interests. This project seeks to trace the patterns of influence–internal community vs. external agencies–that have produced both new forms of Andean cooperation and entrepreneurial strategies.