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Oak Grove Burial Ground Debate Still Alive

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday December 04, 2007

Are Native Americans buried beneath the oak grove along the western wall of Memorial Stadium? 

Zachary Running Wolf and some members of the Ohlone people say the site is sacred, the resting place of villagers who once dwelt along the shores of Strawberry Creek. 

“There is no specific, verified evidence of burials,” other than one cited by a consulting archaeologist, said Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley’s executive director of public affairs.  

But Richard Schwartz, a writer with several books on Berkeley history to his credit, says a look at the record raises critical questions about the university’s claim. 

There is no dispute that a dozen or so burials were found at Faculty Glade, a short walk downstream from the stadium. 

The evidence is less clear about the stadium area itself, but Schwartz would argue that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. 

James M. Allan, a consulting archaeologist hired by the university, declared in a written report that “there is no verifiable evidence for a burial ground at the site of the Stadium.” 

Part of the dispute centers on newspaper accounts, with one key account in a June 21, 1925 edition of the San Francisco Examiner alleging that several burials had been uncovered during construction of the stadium two years earlier. 

Allan’s report alleges that the account conflates the Faculty Glade burials with a single burial found at the stadium. 

“The only museum records (the accession record and card catalogue listing) we have found are for the aforementioned single Native American male burial at this site,” he reported to the university. 

But Schwartz responds with another 1925 article printed a day earlier in the Oakland Tribune, which quotes anthropologist Leslie Spier as stating that “many skeletons have been found in Faculty Glade, along Strawberry Creek and under the site of Memorial Stadium.” 

“If you take away the buildings and the roads and look at the area, you will see that it’s all one site from Faculty Glade to the site of the stadium,” Schwartz said. 

The Berkeley writer commented on yet another article—a piece appearing on the front page of Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle—which cited claims by an unnamed archaeologist that the grove site was too steep for burials. 

“Nonsense,” said Schwartz, who has himself discovered and registered a burial site in Berkeley on even steeper ground. 

The real question for Schwartz, who numbers university anthropology faculty among his friends, is why the university hasn’t set out to do a thorough survey of the land where it plans to excavate for a largely subterranean athletic training facility. 

While Mogulof said an archaeologist will be on hand to monitor excavations, Schwartz said discoveries could come too late, after earth-moving equipment had already wreaked its havoc on the site. 

“A great learning institution like UC Berkeley should want to preserve history and to make sure its legacy is preserved,” he said. 

Schwartz cited another article, from a 1929 edition of the Berkeley Daily Gazette, in which a longtime resident reported that an Ohlone shellmound had once stood at the site of the stadium. 

“No one’s done a thorough year-by-year search of all the newspapers, which might reveal a lot more,” he said.