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.

Analysis of a Skeletal Population from Archaeological Site CA-SCL-134

Primary Investigator: Brieann DeOrnellas

Faculty Sponsor: Alan Levanthal

I am currently analyzing a Muwekma Ohlone ancestral skeletal population that was excavated at archaeological site CA-SCL-134 located in the City of Santa Clara.  I am conducting this research under the supervision of instructor, archaeologist, and co-principal investigator Alan Leventhal.  To obtain radiocarbon dating analyses of seven of the burials from this population, I applied for—and was awarded—the College of Social Sciences Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Grant totaling $2,280.  The AMS radiocarbon testing dated the burials to be between ~1000 BC to AD 505, thereby chronologically placing this mortuary population in the newly revised temporal Scheme D that is defined as the Lower Berkeley Pattern (+2100 – 600 BC) through the Middle 2 of the Upper Berkeley Pattern (AD 420 –AD 585).

This research provided me with new skill sets and networks, thus providing me the opportunity to work directly with and for the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area on their ancestors and ancestral heritage sites.  In May of 2017, I was invited by the Muwekma tribal leadership to work as an anthropological consultant to the tribe as an archaeological field excavator at site CA-ALA-565 located in Sunol, California.  Since then, I have been continuously working part time on that site along with four other SJSU graduate students Alisha Ragland, Arianna Heathcote, Alicia Hedges and Kanya Yoshihiro as field archaeologists and Chairwoman Rosemary Cambra, Vice Chairwoman Monica V. Arellano and tribal member Arnold Sanchez as part of the burial recovery program for this ancestral mortuary population.  Furthermore, I have also been trained as a monitor overseeing the heavy equipment subsurface excavation for utilities and other construction activities.

Working this job with integrity and cultural sensitivity has resulted in enhanced experience and the development of new competencies, as well as invitations for continued involvement as an archaeologist for the tribe.  More recently, I participated with the tribe in the burial excavation located at the Guadalupe Mines site in San Jose, and have been involved in the skeletal analysis of the Guadalupe Mines and Sunol burials along with fellow anthropology undergraduate students Leslie Hoefert and Amanda Jorgenson.

Alicia Hedges, Alisha Ragland, Arnold Sanchez, Brieann DeOrnellas and Arianna Heathcote at the Sunol Site

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.