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[whitespace] City dig unearths prehistoric remains

Sunnyvale--Some things are older than orchards. Workers laying sewer pipe in a six-foot trench in central Sunnyvale on May 9, unearthed prehistoric Native American remains. The discovery halted construction at the site on Fair Oaks Avenue near Evelyn Avenue pending notification of living descendants, said Mark Dettle, Assistant Director of Public Works.

Lorna Pierce, an anthropologist with the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office, identified the remains as those of a Native American adult buried centuries ago. "It's been in the ground for quite a long time," she said. "It's between 500 and a couple of thousand years old."

Pierce said determining an exact age would be possible only with extensive testing, which may be unlikely. Ancient remains are treated with respect rather than curiosity, she said. Pierce only brushed aside enough dirt from the skull to identify it as belonging to a Native American, leaving the rest of the remains undisturbed.

The body, she said, was probably deliberately buried, possibly in a burial ground. The city will hire an archeologist to examine and evaluate the surrounding area.

In the meantime, progress rolls on. The site has been covered, protected with steel plates. "Cars can drive over it," Dettle said.

Debbie Treadway, an analyst with the state's Native Heritage Commission contacted by Pierce, said researchers are in the process of searching for a likely descendant of the deceased. The remains will be handled in line with the wishes of the group declared to most likely be the descendant, Treadway said. They may be left in the ground or reburied elsewhere. State law requires the notification of the commission after discovery of Native remains, Dettle said.

The Santa Clara Valley is often associated with the Ohlone tribe, but Pierce said guessing which tribe the person came from would be very difficult. Little is known about tribal movements in prehistoric times. "We don't know enough about migratory patterns," she said.

The discovery of ancient human remains, Pierce said, is common in the south Bay Area--a region once densely populated by Native Americans.

"The whole Santa Clara Valley was occupied for thousands of years," she said. "We find remains all over the valley."

Dettle said finding remains in Sunnyvale was "rare," though not unheard of. He said the discovery would not affect the construction schedule of the sewer line designed to handle increased use caused by population growth. Work will continue further down the sewer line until the body has been reburied, he said.
Sam Scott

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