Santa Clara County obliviously built a bunch of solar panels over an Ohlone burial ground this summer. Contractors might have plowed through ancient human remains had it not been for a local journalist alerting the county to its glaring oversight.
Willow Glen Resident reporter Julia Baum found out about the site’s significance earlier this month by following a tip from a former Caltrans engineer who oversaw the Highway 87 widening in the early 2000s. He told her that the field between Capitol Expressway and Branham Lane was protected because of its history.
Baum asked county officials if they knew about the bones beneath the solar farm that broke ground back in June. The county apparently had no clue. One official even shrugged off the claim because he could find no public record to confirm it.
Baum kept digging.
She checked in with San Jose State anthropologist Alan Leventhal, who told her that—yep, sure enough—Muwekma Ohlone human remains from 400 to 1,700 years ago were unearthed on the six-acre site back in 1973.
Kirk Girard, who heads up the county’s planning department, admitted in Baum’s follow-up story to a lapse in due diligence. It doesn’t appear that contractors disturbed any remains, but with some trench work underway it could have been a different story.
The county will now work with the Muwekma Ohlone tribe and an archeologist to monitor the project. If workers come across any remains or artifacts, work will stop.
Over the centuries, California’s indigenous tribes were decimated by ethnic cleansing and state-sanctioned genocide.
“The local indigenous people’s community has been oppressed to the point of near extinction,” county Office of Human Relations Director Delorme McKee-Stovall wrote in a Facebook post in response to Baum’s article. “And yet there is still the steady march that continues to diminish all evidence of their extraordinary history in this region. Absent allies, more sacred sites will be disturbed, destroyed and wiped from history.”