What is a shellmound ?

What are shellmounds made of? Who built the shellmounds? Save the shellmounds.

What is a Shellmound?

A shellmound is an indigenous resting place (cemetery) created by the first people of the San Francisco Bay Area.

They are dome in shape; and especially verdant. Shellmounds are usually found near the coast, or a river, or stream. Shellmounds can be very large, and may measure about 5 square acres as a low average. Shellmounds are hallowed ground; and their use can stretch back for thousands of years.

Shellmounds, until fairly recently, were considered "trash heaps" until the beginning of the 20th Century, when archaeologists and anthropologists began to recognize them as Indian Burial Grounds.

For a long time, the Alamedans believed that the shellmounds in Alameda were built by "a branch of Miwok Indians". This was mainly because the Alameda Museum, and most of the historians in Alameda relied upon the master's thesis of a geologist called Imelda Merlin. Imelda Merlin included several shellmounds in her thesis in a Map of Live Oak Trees which was the sole source of information for the Alameda Museum and local historians.

While Merlin had correctly located at least one Mound, she did not include citations to the references she used for her map, and (for some reason) Merlin never referred to the "Shellmound Map" created by anthropologist N.C. Nelson, even though Merlin was a student at UC Berkeley. I can't underscore this enough: UC Berkeley is absolutely famous for its study of Native Americans, their anthropology department was headed by the infamous Alfred Kroeber; and, N.C. Nelson himself was performing research under the auspices of said department when he created the "Shellmounds of the San Francisco Bay Area."

Who were the First Alamedans?

The First Alamedans are Ohlone People. Alameda is the homeland of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area. Alameda is part of an area that is called Huchiun.

Alameda is Muwekma Territory

The present-day Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is comprised of all of the known surviving American Indian lineages aboriginal to the San Francisco Bay region who trace their ancestry through the Missions Dolores, Santa Clara, and San Jose, and who were also members of the historic Federally Recognized Verona Band of Alameda County.

Where were the Alameda Shellmounds?

  • Bay Farm
  • Shellmound on Mound Street
  • Foot of Chestnut

What Happened to the Alameda Shellmounds?

Shellmounds were actually burial mounds. Keeping that in mind makes most of the "uses" for shellmounds that people had in the late 1800's and early 1900's [and even today] seem especially perverse or offensive.

  • Garden Fertilizer
  • Aggregate for Concrete
  • Used to pave Bay Farm Road
  • Overfill to level train tracks or build levees in the marsh.

Are all of the shellmounds Gone?

No. Shellmounds are some of the most endangered tribal cultural resources in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they exist. However, their locations are closely guarded, because they are private, sacred places. Unfortunately, the land which shellmounds were built upon by the First Peoples of the Bay Area are mostly owned by large corporations in the extraction and refinement industries, and are constantly in danger of being contaminated by industrial pollutants, or being destroyed by corporate operators who hold "title" to the land.

Why are shellmounds called "shellmounds"?

Shellmounds were called shellmounds because the soil around the shores and coasts of Calfornia have a high shell content, in general. These shells were deposited by birds, other animals, and humans.

At first, American and European Colonizers who came to The Bay assumed these piles of shells were refuse piles, leftover from feasts. This conclusion was wrong. And it wouldn't be challenged until the 1970's, after nearly 100 years of "study".

Shellmounds had such a high shell content that they are said to have a blue tint because of the color of mussels, the most plentiful shellfish in the Bay Area. Alameda also had its own oyster reef, which meant shells may have even more common here, than in other places.

What are shellmounds made of?

Shellmounds are cemeteries where people have been laid to rest in rows, and covered with the shell-laden soil found along the shorelines of the Bay Area. Once the first row was complete, another row was added on top, covered with soil, and so on.

Who was buried in the shellmounds?

Shellmounds could be the burial place for one family or small group, or several families, or a whole village, spanning several generations.


Decolonize Your Advocacy

Shellmounds are the most endangered historic places in the world. Help save the shellmounds which still exist today. Stop prioritizing action against malls and places which are already completely destroyed!