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Archaeological Investigation of Prehistoric Ohlone Village Site (CA-CCO-356) in Pinole, CA.

by Mike (Ali) Raccoon Eyes Kinney
Archaeological Investigation of Prehistoric Ohlone Village Site (CA-CCO-356) in Pinole, CA.
Archaeological Investigation of Prehistoric Ohlone Village Site (CA-CCO-356) in Pinole, CA.-By Mike (Ali) Raccoon Eyes Kinney

In late July, 2013 I was contacted by the Pinole Preservation Society with their concerns regarding an 80 ft. tall Verizon cell phone tower as well as a skateboard park of which both to be located in Pinole Valley Park in the San Francisco Bay Area, City of Pinole, Ca. The city of Pinole at the time of this writing is planning the development of both the Verizon cell phone tower and the bike park in one of California’s oldest Native Archaeological recorded sites within the parks boundaries.

I started my field investigations in July through December, 2013 of the prehistoric site of the Huchiun band of the Ohlones. They are a State of California recorded Archaeological sites, CA-CCO-355 and 356. (CA-California, CCO-County of Contra Costa, prehistoric sites – 355 and 356) In January, 1977 the City of Pinole brought on board two well- known Archaeologists, Mr. Peter M. Banks and David A. Fredrickson to conduct an Archaeological Investigation of the 231 acres of land in Pinole Valley for the development as the Pinole Valley Park Project.

The purposes of the Archaeological Investigation were to determine whether any Archaeological Resources were situated with the subject property, to evaluate the significance of any such resources, to estimate the effect that park development and construction might have upon such resources and to recommend procedures to mitigate any adverse effect that development and construction might have upon such resources.

In that year as well the Pinole Valley Park Project was having an Archaeological Investigation of a major historical site, the Ignacio Martinez Adobe site dating from 1842. While that investigation was being conducted there were two large, relatively undisturbed Prehistoric Habitation sites found within the said project area. It was most unusual and very fortunate to find any prehistoric sited, especially large ones, in a relatively undisturbed state in a county where residential and commercial development has been intense.

AS mentioned, CCO-356, had been recorded by Banks and Fredrickson (1977), then 1995 the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University contracted with the City of Pinole to determine the boundaries of CCO-356 and assess potential park construction impacts.
This investigation concluded that CCO-356 was at 30% larger than originally estimated.

In Pinole Valley area, there is evidence of a prehistoric archaeological nature could include attributes such as implements, flakes or chips of chert, basalt, obsidian, grinding tools of stone, including mortar bowls or bedrock mortars, petroglyphs, carvings in rocks, marine shell fragments, especially bay species, burned and heat fractured rock, burned and broken animal and bird bones, fragments of human bones, remnants of human graves and locally darkened soil; referred to as midden a by- product of human habitation.

Evidence of an early historical nature would include attributes such as a concentration of early historic artifacts such as china or ironstone pottery fragments, glass fragments; especially of hand blown glass bottles, metal fragments and sawn wood fragments. Foundations of structures marked by either a line of large rocks or of wooden beams, also either a very dark, loose, friable soil; referred to as midden or soil derived from adobe bricks which are marked by a soft texture, a tendency to cleavage along rectangular lines and a soft profusion of dried plant remains.

The archaeological investigation of the Pinole Valley Park revealed to areas of high archaeological sensitivity. Each one of these areas contained significant archaeological resources which could yield much new information on the prehistory and early history of Pinole Valley.

Area A - The first area was situated on the flat terrace on the North side of Pinole Creek. It was bordered to the North and East by Pinole Valley Road, and to south by the steep bank of
Pinole Creek, then to the west by a tributary that crossed Pinole Valley Road approximately 150 meters East of Simas. Area A, measured 350 meters East – West by 120 meters, North – South.

The major archaeological feature in Area A was a well – preserved prehistoric habitation site that was found during this investigation and assigned site number CCO-356. The site was located on a very low mound on a flat open terrace of Pinole Creek. The area of the site was approximately 120 meters East-West by 40 – 60 meters North – South. CCO-356 was characterized by loose, friable, very dark grey-brown to black gravelly silt with many small, water worn pebbles. There were numerous angular rocks, some of which showed signs of having been burned or fire cracked. The soil was additionally full of marine shell bits and fragments and contained a few scattered fragments of animal bones. Very few artifacts were observed, but many had probably been collected by residents and visitors through the years.
CCO-356 is an important prehistoric site not only because of its large size and high archaeological potential, but also because it has been subject to surprisingly little disturbance in an area where, as mentioned earlier, all other known prehistoric sites have been destroyed or badly disturbed.

Approximately 100 meters West of CCO-356 and located in the general areas of four old fruit trees, was a reported location of a “Historic Site of an Indian Burial Mound”. This information was derived from a map made in 1962 by Ribera and Sue which was based on reports of local informants. Because of other information on the same map is fairly accurate and the reported location was close to a known habitation site, it is possible human bones were found in the area of the reported location. Therefore, the reported location of an “Indian Burial Mound” is included in the area of high archaeological sensitivity.

Area B – The second area of high archaeological sensitivity was found on the flat, brushed-covered terrace on the Southside of Pinole Creek. This area was bordered to the North by the steep cut bank of Pinole Creek, to the west by the property line of the residence at 1261 Old Adobe Road, to the North steepening slope of hills on the south side of Pinole Valley and to the east by an intermittent drainage that flowed 50 meters east of the Ignacio Martinez Adobe site. Area B measured 350 meters East and West by 100 – 150 meters North and South.

Within Area B and obscured by early historic structures on it, is a second prehistoric habitation site found during the course of this investigation and assigned site number CCO-355. This site was located below and approximately 25 meters North and West of Ignacio Martinez Adobe site on the slope of the main terrace and on the top of a narrow sub-terrace that was 1.5 – 2 meters below the main terrace. The original route of the Old Adobe Road was located on this sub-terrace and therefore passed over CCO-355. This site was a fairly large one and extended 90 meters East–West by as much as 40 meters, North and South. In an exposure in the cut bank the midden was 60 – 80 cm. thick and covered with about 15 cm. of old road fill. The midden was a moderately loose, friable, dark grey-brown to black loamy gravelly slit with small bits of marine shell fragments scattered throughout. CC)-355 has been disturbed somewhat by historic structures and roads as well as by dumping of early and recent historic litter. It was also subject to severe erosion.
CCO-355 was evidently occupied before, and not contemporaneous with the period when the Martinez family lived here. The sites significance lies in the fact that it has been subject to slight disturbance and was generally intact. CCO-355 also may be an older site than CCO-356 because more finely crushed shell and more compact soil is generally found in the lower and older levels of a site.

The environmental characteristics surrounding CCO-356 would have combined to make the site location economically and ecologically viable for long term habitation, offering varied resources and close proximity to San Francisco Bay. The combined grassland, riparian and oak woodland vegetation communities would have provided materials for living structures and basketry items and diverse food resources, including acorns, grass seeds, berries, bulbs, a variety of fish, birds and terrestrial mammals. Furthermore, site location offered shelter from prevailing winds and provided eastern exposure for morning sun.

Before the coming of the Spanish, the Central coast of California had the densest population of Native Americans anywhere north of Mexico. More than 50,000 people lived in the coastal regions from the Carmel River to the San Francisco Bay Area. There were some sixty bands of people in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties alone. Members of these sixty bands spoke ten to fifteen dialects of the Pentiuan family language group. A majority of the languages were closely related, but in some cases were so very different that these small bands could live several miles apart from one another and yet could not understand each other. The average size of a band could number up to 250 persons. These sixty bands of the Pentiuan-speaking Native Americans lived in six of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties -- San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Monterey, Alameda, Solano and Contra Costa.
They were called the Ohlone, a Bay Miwok word meaning the 'people of the West'. We need to think of the Ohlone not as a 'tribe', but as related groups of people with a similar Pentiuan-based language. Before European contact, these Pentiuan-speaking people never thought of themselves as a 'tribal' unit. However, the invasion and interaction with whites gradually caused most of those who remained of the original bands to think of themselves as Ohlone in later years.
The Huchiun band of the Ohlone (the word Huchiun simply means 'people') homeland was high in the western hills of West Contra Costa County. It was a great stretch of high, rolling grassy hills clothed in a sweep of prairie-type grasses and endless fields of wildflowers. For the Huchiun, the important features were in the forests following the creeks and rivers down from the canyons in the high hill country and across the grassland savannahs to the San Pablo Bay. Here the coast redwood, buckeye, coast and live oak, big leaf maple, madrone and manzanita trees formed thousands of acres of untouched primeval forest that shadowed the Bay shoreline of West Contra Costa.
The first Spanish expedition there was chronicled by Captain Pedro Fages and Father Juan Crespi, who came north to explore the western parts of Contra Costa County in 1769 while looking for Drake's Bay. At the Richmond Wildcat Creek village, Crespi made contact with the first Huchiun. He stated they had found "a good village of heathen, very fair and bearded." Along San Pablo Bay close to the area where Garrity Creek flows into the Bay nearby Point Pinole, he reported "five large villages of very mild heathens with pleasant faces…(that were) bearded." The prehistoric Huchiun site map of archaeological excavations shows that Point Pinole features very prominently in archaeological digs. Recent archaeological digs completed in the mid-1990s showed that Point Pinole was an Ohlone spiritual center. Holy men and shamans from as far south as Monterey were brought to that village for burial. Upon reviewing the entire Ohlone landmarks map we can see how prominent the Huchiun were in the greater Ohlone world.

Estimates around the time of the Fages and Crespi expeditions there were some 10,000 Huchiun in the East Bay. These indigenous people lived hunting and gathering lifestyles in tribelets of 250 or less. They lived in seasonal villages, migrating from the shores of San Pablo Bay to the inland canyons along Pinole, Garrity, Rheem, San Pablo and Wildcat Canyon Creeks on an annual cycle for thousands upon thousands of years.

I came to Pinole Valley Park in late July 2013 to conduct an Archaeological and Historical Investigation for a proposed 80ft. tall Verizon Wireless Cell Phone Tower to be built in Pinole Valley Park. Having walked from Pinole Valley Road to the fire trail that connects with the Adobe Road trail where both prehistoric sites, CCO-355 and CCO-356 are adjacent to one another’s boundaries. I walked along the Old Adobe Road trail to the immediate site of where the proposed Verizon Cell Phone Tower would be. With the old Ignacio Martinez Adobe site to my back, which is a part of CCO-355 as well as the prehistoric site, I looked down the steep south slope of where CCO-355 runs to the Pinole Valley Creek and then borders with site CCO-356 on the North-Slope.
I made my decision to survey and start my investigation down a very steep deer trail going down the steep South-Slope of site 355 until I could reach the Pinole Valley Creek bed. Having descended about 200 ft down the trail, within minutes, I discovered a fully intact Ohlone pestle that I thought to be about 1700 years of age. This validated to me as in the archaeological investigation of Banks and Fredrickson (1977) that this was indeed a highly sensitive prehistoric archaeological site. I felt the possibility of more exposed prehistoric artifacts along steep South-Slope of CCO-355 below the Old Adobe Trail would provide me with more evidence in my investigation.

On my second site visit, I walked along the Old Adobe Road Trail in early August 2013 to where Banks and Fredrickson had surveyed two Eucalyptus trees which were dated from before 1890. I then realized this was one of both prehistoric and early dump sites they had found in CCO-355. Close to one of the recorded Eucalyptus trees I discovered about 2 inches below the surface dirt a medium sized, portable river-rock prehistoric knife sharpener that was slightly exposed in the earth. I placed the prehistoric knife sharpener at about 2000 years of age.
I then proceeded down the very dangerous steep South-Slope below the two Eucalyptus trees to make the 400-500 foot descent to the Pinole Valley Creek bed. As I carefully made the descent down the South-Slope of 355, I found many Mexican Colonial-era exposed artifacts. There were high concentrations of early historical artifacts, as china and pottery fragments and shards, numerous glass fragments and a few hand-blown glass bottle necks. I quickly determined that this was one of the early historical and colonial dump sites that Banks and Fredrickson had recorded in their investigation. Having reached the bottom of the creek bed, I found a fully intact clam shell on the creek bed.
Upon further investigation of the creek bed I discovered assorted and different size prehistoric pestles, hammer stones, scrapers and assorted stone debitage within a 50 foot length of the creek. The North side of the slope of CCO-356 was filled with coffee-black midden and small fire cracked boulder formations along a lower terraced where CCO-356 begins at the creek bed. I took numerous photographs, measurements and drew sketches of the various exposed artifacts that I had discovered within the creek bed. Upon seeing these numerous and assorted tools and implements, it clearly validated again Bank’s and Fredrickson’s statement that CCO-355 was clearly a highly sensitive prehistoric archaeological site. I felt that the assorted prehistoric tools could be placed at about 1,700-2,000 years of age.
Due to the new prehistoric tools and implements found by this writer, it must be viewed as new prehistoric evidence that validates CA-CCO-355 as a highly active and sensitive Prehistoric Archaeology site. It is utter foolish to consider building an 80ft cell tower in CA-CCO-355; as it would destroy and desecrate portions of the remaining prehistoric cultural resources that are in this highly sensitive archaeological site. This gives new prehistoric evidence of pre-historic human habitation of CCO-355.

In October, 2013 I started an Archaeological Investigation of CA-CCO-356 on the Northside of the Pinole Creek. My main focus of this portion of my investigation was to make a site visit to the reported location of the Indian Burial Mound and the surrounding area in close proximity to Pinole Creek and the No Name Creek.
The City of Pinole plans to develop a portion of this area to build a proposed Skateboard Park next to the Soccer Field that already exists in that area now. In the ' Preliminary Results of Archaeological site Indexing at Pinole Valley Park ( CA-CCO-356), Pinole, California,' (Holman, 2001 ) The proposed soccer-field was to be built on a three-acre parcel in the North-Northwestern portion of CCO-356 back in the mid or late 1990’s.

In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Register of Historical Resources, archaeological investigations were undertaken at Pinole Valley Park to satisfy the City of Pinole permit conditions for the placement of fill on top of CCO-356 prior to construction of a soccer- field. Archaeological site indexing was completed to mitigate burial of CCO-356 deposits and help to formulate appropriate methods to cap the sites investigations showing the site to be larger than previously mapped and to contain intact, scientifically significant prehistoric data that can be used to address important research questions.
CCO-356 after being mapped at the time was 30% larger than originally thought to be. After Holman had completed the archaeological site indexing of this section of CCO-356, the most plentiful prehistoric artifact recovered at CCO-356 was flaked stone debitage. Unit 1 produced 28 pieces of chert debitage, and 2 pieces of obsidian debitage. Unit 2 yielded 74 pieces of chert debitage and 4 pieces of obsidian debitage, and Unit 3a total of 11 chert debitage and 1 obsidian projectile point fragment. Other prehistoric materials recovered included relatively abundant charcoal and fire affected rock. Several projectiles point fragments were also recovered.This may be viewed as massive prehistoric manufacturing and suggests possible trading patterns.

Next to the soccer field at the time of this writing, is a proposed skateboard park that the City of Pinole wants to develop and build, scheduled for some time in 2014. Having walked the proposed skateboard park numerous times in my investigation from July to November 2013; there has been light grading done by earth moving machinery. This should be of a major concern with the high sensitivity of the prehistoric cultural resources and artifacts of this section of CCO-356. The current pre-grading for the proposed Skateboard Park appears to be about one-quarter of an acre.
Moving beyond the proposed Skateboard Park site we are now in the proximity area of the reported location of the Indian Burial Mound going in a Northwest direction about 500 feet approaching the Northwest area of where the Pinole and No Name Creeks merge. While walking deer trails through tall dry grass, coyote brush and sparse scrub oaks, the entire area now becomes a pristine, untouched prehistoric Ohlone Village site. This prehistoric village site is about two acres with large deposits of coffee-black midden on the surface of the earth, about one-half of this site is covered in the coffee- black midden is vast and runs throughout the site. It is rather obvious that there has been the use of large open pit fires over the centuries and is the source of the coffee-black midden.

Walking north one can see the Pinole Creek and a series of two low terraces. Upon going down the deer trail from the upper level of the village site and crossing past the two low terraces, you can see overwhelming evidence of prehistoric human habitation. The coffee-black midden is plentiful on both lower terraces when you come to the Pinole Creek bed. It has high concentrations of stone and bone Artifacts that I discovered there. Upon investigating a 50 foot section of creek bed, there was more prehistoric artifacts and implements, evidence, real hard core evidence of prehistoric human habitation. There were numerous hammer stones, pestles that were totally intact along with deer awls used in the production of making baskets and textiles, a probable bi-facially pitted Anvil Stone and a possible grooved maul. However, there were as well, broken Hammer Stones and assorted pestles amidst the totally intact artifact tools, this might possibly allude to a suggestion that cremation may have taken place there as well, on a limited basis.

For a long time after the funeral, especially relatives, acted with great care; the body had been disposed of, but not the ghost, and the Ohlones, like other California Indians, had the greatest fear of ghosts. Their particular terror was that the soul of the deceased, instead of going to the land of the dead, would hover around and cause serious damage. They especially feared that the ghost in its loneliness would be drawn to its old family, friends, dwelling or implements; and it was for reason as well as out of grief, that a person’s dwelling burned and possessions destroyed. This might possibly account for the smashed or destroyed artifacts in the creek bed. The Ohlones had a great fear of ghost sickness and contamination.

When exiting the creek bed and coming up to the top terrace, I discovered prehistoric animal remains, a vertebrae spinal cord and pelvis and next to the prehistoric animal remains was a huge manzanita charcoal. What is so exciting about this prehistoric recorded archaeological site is the discovery of new artifact evidence that gives proof to prehistoric human habitation between 2000 – 2500 years ago.


With the finding of new prehistoric cultural resources and artifacts in CCO-355 and CCO-356, we must view this as actual new evidence of prehistoric human habitation. As Banks stated: “Area A; CCO-356, this prehistoric habitation site is one of the largest and best preserved prehistoric sites the Author (Banks) has seen in Contra Costa County. It is remarkable to find a site so little disturbed in an essentially suburban area. This site is significant because it may be the only large undisturbed prehistoric site remaining in the County to which careful excavation and modern archaeological techniques could be applied. As mentioned earlier, all of the other recorded prehistoric sites had either been excavated in the early days of archaeology or, more commonly, have been partially or wholly destroyed. Much new information about the prehistory of this region could result from future excavation of CCO-356.

Banks further states, “In order to preserve CCO-356 and the reported Indian Burial Mound, 100 meters west of it, is recommended that NO park development activities take place in Area A that would disturb the soil”.

Because of the reported Indian Burial Mound site and a possible new Prehistoric Village site in close proximity in the North-Northwest of where Pinole Creek and the No Name Creek merge, it would be advised by this writer (Kinney) NO Skateboard Park should be developed and built. Human burials and cremations will probably be found if large scale earth moving is undertaken in the undisturbed areas. Isolated human bones will probably be found during earth moving activities in the disturbed areas.
by Coyote jim
Found interesting art work. In my yard wondering who could help indentify ty coyote dan
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