During excavations for utility relocation at the Moscone Station, workers uncovered shell in the trenches located on Fourth Street between Howard and Folsom. Mike Stoyka, an archaeologist at the Anthropological Studies Center (ASC) at Sonoma State University, had been assigned to oversee the trenches and called for a halt to the construction work while archaeologists excavated the area.
Cultural Resource Management in Action
The work at Moscone Station is a part of the Central Subway project of the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s Third Street Light Rail Program. According to SFMTA’s project website, “the majority funding for the Central Subway will be provided by the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Startsprogram.” Because of this, the project is required by federal law to employ a cultural resource management (CRM) firm to make sure that no cultural materials, including archaeological and historical sites, are damaged during the course of the excavations. The Anthropological Studies Center (ASC) at Sonoma State was contracted to supply this service.
Why Stop the Construction?
Archaeologist Mike Stoyka, who was the monitor assigned to this part of the construction, knew that deposits of shell in the city most often mean the presence of a midden, or trash heap, and therefore could mean that a Native American site was nearby. He stopped the construction work so that he and other archaeologists from ASC, as well as Native American representatives from the area could assess the situation and come up with a plan that would provide the most protection for the cultural resources while hindering the construction as little as possible.
What Happens to the Materials?
The archaeological materials are currently being excavated by archaeologists from ASC. This process in this case involves taking the deposits (including all the dirt!) back to ASC to be screened and processed. According to the Central Subway Blog, the archaeologists have so far found shells, animal bones, and a few artifacts, including an awl, which is a tool used to punch holes in animal hides. All of this is consistent with the site being a trash heap, or midden, that was probably located near a village site.
What Happens Next?
Archaeologists will continue to monitor the construction as the project progresses, keeping an eye out for any further archaeological materials. The midden site will be destroyed as construction continues, though the artifacts will be kept for study.