Independent Alameda Native History Project Develops First 3D Shellmound Model

Local Native American-led Research Project Aims to Educate Public, Advocate for Shellmounds

Click here to skip the article and download the Alameda Native History Project Shellmound Model, made by Gabriel Duncan.

For the first time ever, an entirely independent research project, led by a Native American descendant, has produced a tangible representation of pre-contact Native American Spirituality and Engineering.

Shellmounds, up until now, have largely only been talked about as a theoretical object, which “used to exist.” And shellmounds have been used as a tool to gain funding, and political influence.

As a descendant of California Native Americans, adopted out of my tribe at birth, raised by white people, and growing up in a place like Alameda–which is a “good ole boy” town, and known for it’s white racist, residents, and it’s over-policing of people of color….

As all of that…

I needed more than these pretty words and vagaries.

More than a rock in the middle of Lincoln Park, in Alameda, Commemorating the Ohlone Shellmound the City of Alameda dug up and used to pave Bay Farm Road.

When public figures speak about shellmounds, they are referred to in terms of what shellmounds symbolize.

We’re given a rosy, idealized, wash of what life was like in the San Francisco Bay Area before the Spaniards and “White People” came.

It’s very light on details, but gives us just enough to sort of “dream” of what life was like.

This is all well and good if you’re not that interested.

If all you wanted was a simple answer to the question of,

What happened to those shellmounds in Emeryville and Alameda?
Where was the shellmound in West Berkeley?

But some people want to know what it looked like, really. In the sense of being able to know where things were. Being able to see what kind of plants were growing at that time (some plants and animals have gone extinct in the intervening 300 or so years.)

Some people would like to see the same attention devoted to Native American History, Research, Preservation, Conservation, and Education that has been devoted to:
Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie, California
  • Old Mining Towns
  • Victorian Houses
  • Military Forts and Installations
  • Warships
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Stone Mountain
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Foreign Archeology & Anthropology

We’re entering an era of what could be considered “Salvage Archiving“, or something of the sort.

Where an impetus should be placed on saving those withered, orphaned pages, plastered to the back of shelves, and in the dark grimy corners of filing cabinets. Getting those pages archived, digitally. Creating new renditions of old data and information, in modern formats. In high-fidelity.

Why? Because they’re primary sources.

The last scribbled field notes, and crumpled photographs that are almost lost to history; but which carry the little bits and pieces glossed over by researchers who were never looking for more than statistical data, or a PhD. Or who just hunted for the citation, without bothering to read and comprehend the rest.

These bits of real world meta- and scrape-data…

We need our histories, language, and secrets, to help us re-imagine what a De-Colonized Future really looks like. To help us repatriate the ancestors being returned to us from these museums and universities. And we need land back, so we can have a place to bury our ancestors, and let them rest in peace.

Native American History and Culture was taken away from the First Californians.

It was cataloged and scattered around the world, to different museums, universities, and private collections. Everything from our oral histories to our ancestors’ bodies are in pieces.

This is our inheritance.
Our family property.

It should not have to take feats of academic, and legal, scholarship to gain access to our own language, history, and the physical bodies of our ancestors.

But not everybody knows they’re family…

There was a time in America where white-passing Hispanic people claimed to be White, and light-skinned Native Americans pretended to be Mexican.

This was because Native Americans who were caught in public, off the reservation, could be subject to arrest–where a white man could “buy an Indian” as a slave–forced on to a nearby reservation, or just killed on the spot.

Indian Census Roll

Mexicans and Spaniards were allowed agency, and relative freedom, when compared to the possibility of being criminalized and sold into slavery, or killed.

So that’s why many Native Americans declared Mexican ancestry, and took Spanish last names, or married into those families: to hide from the terror and racism Native Americans were subjected to by the American Government.

It wasn’t until recently that people started talking about their abuelitas,

“I think mentioning something that they were really some part American Indian, or Native American?”

These people, with surprise ancestry, or “hidden heritage” cannot be discounted. They have been completely oblivious to their own ties to this land, and these shellmounds.

But, an awakening is happening, the veil of [necessary?] secrecy is finally being lifted.

This begs to question the fairness of gate-keeping.

Tuibun Village Reproduction
Coyote Hills Regional Park
Fremont, California
  • Shouldn’t the living descendants of these ancestors be given the opportunity to visit, experience, and learn about all of these things?
  • Is it really the role of anyone to deny them their birth rite, or the ability to at least find some solace or peace within themselves; because here is a place where they can pilgrimage to learn about themselves?
  • How can we really expect to know what “rematriation” or “land back” looks like, if we don’t even know what Native Land looks like (outside of vast pictures of forests, and dingy shots of dust-swept reservations?)

How can we teach ourselves, and each other about what Native Land really is, without being able to visit it, or even talk about what they look like?

Examples like the diorama of the Tuibun (Ohlone) Village at Coyote Hills Regional Park, in Fremont, California, are invaluable to helping one imagine, envision or just “picture what it was like.”

There is more than one type of “estranged”, or,
“dis-enfranchised” Native American….

Strange word, “dis-enfranchised”.

There are Native Americans who were adopted, who grew up outside of their communities.

People who never chose to be separated from their people, and Tribe. People who were never given the opportunity to be reunited. Sometimes forever.

As a descendant of California Native Americans, adopted out of my tribe at birth, raised by white people, and growing up in a place like Alameda–which is a “good ole boy” town, and known for it’s white racist, residents, and it’s over-policing of people of color….

As all of that…

I needed more than these pretty words and vagaries.

More than a rock in the middle of Lincoln Park, in Alameda, Commemorating the Ohlone Shellmound the City of Alameda dug up and used to pave Bay Farm Road.

The symbolism of shellmounds is tied to colonization, and landback, and rematriatrion, and gardens.

But this only uses shellmounds as a strawman, an existential fallacy. Because the argument is only ever over places where shellmounds have been destroyed.

But what about the other shellmounds?

Shellmounds still exist in the San Francisco Bay Area

Every article says the San Francisco Bay Area had at least 425 Shellmounds. But these rely on the recitation of the same, stale facts. The main narrative, and recurring implication, is that, all the shellmounds have been destroyed, and there’s nothing left but three locations in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • Emery Bay outdoor mall, in Emeryvile, California;
  • Glen Cove, in Vallejo, California; and,
  • Spenger’s Parking Lot, in Berkeley, California….

Because the mission of the Alameda Native History Project was to discover what happened to the Alameda Shellmounds; and that, of course lead to researching other Shellmound locations, I learned: of these three locations, only the shellmound in Emeryville is the correct location.

Alameda Native History Project map showing true location and observed (approximate) dimensions of West Berkeley Shellmound.

Upon closer inspection both Glen Cove and West Berkley Shellmounds exist, or existed about 100 feet away from the locations Corrine Gould has alleged, on average. Which wouldn’t be such a big deal if there weren’t huge protests and millions of dollars spent in legal battles over protecting a thing that wasn’t even there. It’s not even a masked-man fallacy. But it’s close. (Especially in West Berkeley.)

This brought about frank questions like, How come Corrine Gould is only interested in Shellmounds that are already destroyed? How come her groups aren’t interested in protecting other shellmounds, like the four at San Rafael Rock Quarry? (She went out to Miwok Territory, despite the fact she’s Ohlone and occupied Glen Cove Park, without the permission or endorsement of the real tribes who’s territory Vallejo falls in.)

Is it just easier to advocate for seizing parking lots? An open space can fit hundreds of protestors, and garner much more attention, when it’s in the middle of a city. Places like outdoor malls, and the center of a shopping district are perfect for garnering public attention. Maybe that’s why more remote mounds in places like Contra Costa and Marin county haven’t been advocated for?

Regardless of the new questions the research has uncovered, the Alameda Native History Project has a self-proclaimed mission to educate the public about shellmounds, and provide detailed, actionable information for their preservation, and protection.

As such, this project will continue to produce and release educational and research materials; to bring attention to all San Francisco Bay Area Shellmounds, and advocate for their protection.

But it’s hard to do that when the leading voice is trying to limit, or stifle the discussion about Shellmounds, to the point of providing incorrect information about their locations.

So let’s start with this:

What is a shellmound?

A lot of people wanted to know, “What is a shellmound? What does a shellmound look like? How big were the shell mounds?”

And, while one could spend time curating schematics, maps, and historical images there are truths which reveal themselves.

Basic traits of a shellmound….

  1. Shellmounds range anywhere from about 3 to 70 feet tall.
  2. Shellmounds have a diameter of about 10 to 300 feet.
  3. Shellmounds have a distinctive domed shape,
    usually with a pavillion, and a ramp or walk-way down one side.
  4. Each shellmound accounts for hundreds to thousands of Native Americans.
    Around 2,000 people were buried in the Emeryville Shellmound.
  5. Shellmounds are not trash heaps.
  6. Shellmounds are burial grounds.
  7. Shellmounds are sacred burial structures, built by the first occupants of the San Francisco Bay Area.
  8. Over 425 shellmounds existed in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  9. Only a few dozen shellmounds still remain, intact, and undisturbed.

ANHP Shellmound Model
Featured in Augmented-Reality

Available Shellmound Models

This video has loud background noise.

There are two Shellmound Models available. They are version 2.5, and 2.6, respectfully.

Version 2.6 is in .REAL format, which is used with Adobe Aero, a mobile-based Augmented Reality platform.

Version 2.5 is in USDZ format. Universal Scene Description is used by Pixar (among other companies); and is now a native 3D Object Format for both iOS and Android 3D Object Viewer.

These shellmound models were created for educational, and research purposes. Commercial use of this model is strictly prohibited. When featuring this model, please include the following citation:

“Shellmound Model created by Gabriel Duncan.”

Shellmound Model v.2.5(download)
Android / iOS (.usdz)
Shellmound Model v.2.6(download)
Adobe Aero (.real) (in-app)
Info about Adobe Aero “Adobe Aero Get Started” on the Adobe website.

Let us know how you use the Shellmound Model!

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