What archaeologists call a "staggering" trove of ancient Coast Miwok remains and artifacts found during a construction project in Larkspur last year has been reburied after Sonoma County tribal leaders rejected scholarly efforts to study the site.
The decision, made by leaders of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria tribe, has frustrated and rankled archaeologists, who say the burial ground dated back 4,500 years and contained massive amounts of historical data about Coast Miwok life that should have been preserved and studied.
"There was a real opportunity to learn something and that opportunity is lost and we'll never have a chance because they have decided to rebury everything," said Jelmer Eerkens, an archeology professor at UC Davis who visited the excavation numerous times. "I was quite disappointed and pretty angry about what ultimately happened."
But Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Graton Rancheria – which has its roots in the Coastal Miwok and Southern Pomo populations of current-day Marin County and southern Sonoma County — dismissed that as arrogant "colonial" thinking.
"The damn gall to assume that the American Indian, whether it's our culture, our beads ... is for others to come in and do what they want – the implicit arrogance to this," he said.
"We know our own history."
The site was discovered last year during construction work for a 17-acre subdivision that includes million-dollar homes near Hall Middle School in central Larkspur. It is near a tidal estuary of Corte Madera Creek, which drains into San Francisco Bay.
State law requires consultation with tribes when Native American remains are found or suspected to be in a construction site. With private developments, it gives tribes most of the decision-making powers over what is done with remains or artifacts.
San Francisco's Holman & Associates served as the archaeological consultants and the Graton tribe, which operates the Graton Resort and Casino outside Rohnert Park, was determined to be the most likely descendants of those who lived at the site.
An archaeologist hired by Holman and several other archaeologists involved with the excavation didn't return calls Wednesday. The project has been approved and is now under construction.
Sam Singer, a spokesman for developers New Home Co., said developers and the tribe agreed to a confidentiality agreement that limits what can be disclosed about the site and what was found there.
"We worked under the guidance and supervision of the tribe to make sure the cultural resources were handled with the utmost care and responsibility," he said. "They were relocated exactly as the tribe desired."
The remains and artifacts were reburied at a location. Sarris wouldn't say if it was in the same area or elsewhere. He said there was a ceremony, but declined to describe it.
The unusual discovery remained quiet for a year, until archaeologists from Holman & Associates revealed some of their preliminary findings at a conference in the Central Valley last month, Eerkens said.
Their report shows the site was about 300 feet long and contained about 600 human burials, numerous tools, musical instruments, weapons and hunting instruments and throwing sticks, Eerkens said.
He said there were also two unusual animal burial sites: of a bear and a condor.
Eerkens said a survey done in the 1800s showed about 420 of these "shell mounds" around the Bay Area, where Native American villages were recorded. There are fewer than 20 left undisturbed, he said.