Crews dig up past to build for future 

Bones from American Indians and coal from the post-Gold Rush era could be unearthed by archaeologists studying the dirt beneath what will eventually become the “Grand Central Station of the West.”

In the next month, the Transbay Transit Terminal at First and Mission streets will be closed for demolition, with traffic moved to a temporary hub blocks away.

In place of the current facility, which was constructed in 1939, the Transbay Transit Center will be built to house nearly a dozen transit agencies. In addition, the $4 billion project is expected to contain the terminus for the state’s high-speed rail line.

On Monday in the Caltrans parking lot, archaeologists began digging into the dirt with a backhoe. The work, which is expected to run through August, is necessary to ensure that the rebuild of the terminal does not impact significant historic deposits.

Excavation that started Monday could reveal the makings of archeological treasures.

“It looked like this land was used in the 1860s for a coal yard after the Gold Rush, among other things,” archaeologist Heather Price said of the Caltrans lot. “This fill isn’t very old. This isn’t the exciting part. The exciting part will be when we dig 65 feet [near] the Transbay Terminal that has sand deposits from 2,000 years ago.”

The company in charge of the survey, William Self Associates, has already tested sites around the 1 million-square-foot project area and determined that there are sand dunes and landfill.

The dunes date back thousands of years to when the area was home to the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, the first San Francisco inhabitants. The fill, which used to be part of San Francisco Bay, is more recent, dating to the 1800s. That land was part of an industrial district with businesses that included coal yards.

When digging begins under the transit terminal, where bones could be found, the process could take a turn. If bone fragments are found, The City’s medical examiner will have to determine whether they are from Ohlone Indians.

And if they are, since the tribe is recognized by the state, the bones have to be reburied ceremoniously, “otherwise their spirits will forever wander the site,” tribe spokeswoman Ann Marie Sayers said.

“The only decent thing to do is to put them back into the earth,” she said.

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