Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Placing Refuge: Shell Mounds and the Archaeology of Colonial Encounters in the San Francisco Bay Area, California


Spanish missions were established in the San Francisco Bay Area beginning in A.D. 1776 with the founding of Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores). Native American accommodation and resistance to colonial settlements has been studied in a variety of contexts in California, including mission sites, but only recently have scholars challenged preconceptions of culture change to examine the range of sociocultural consequences that resulted from colonial encounters. With the present research I seek to identify the places beyond the mission quadrangles where hunter-gatherers both maintained cultural practices and negotiated the adoption of new ones, as well as the processes of cultural change and persistence.

I examine a cluster of three shell mounds--CA-MRN-114, CA-MRN-115, and CA-MRN-328--located on the Marin Peninsula in the hinterland of Mission Dolores for evidence of long-term patterns of hunter-gatherer residence before, during, and after Spanish settlement (1776 -1830s). I critically evaluate whether hunter-gatherers returned on permissible leave from the missions or illicitly to these "places of refuge" to supplement introduced diets with traditional subsistence pursuits; practice seasonally-defined ceremonies and rituals; and to refashion social identities. I argue that periodic occupation of some shell mounds by runaway Indians over time both mirrors Coast Miwok subsistence routines that predate colonial settlement and would have reaffirmed connections to ancestral territories among mission Indians.

My dissertation research contributes to the growing body of scholarship dealing with culture contact and colonialism. I frame my research within theories of landscape, resistance, practice, identity, and materiality, and I employ a combination of archaeological methods--digital mapping, surface collection, geophysical survey, augering, and targeted excavation; specialized analyses, including X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, AMS radiocarbon dating, and obsidian hydration dating; historical documents; and oral interviews with Coast Miwok descendants. My results suggest that, despite missionization efforts, hunter-gatherers continued to occupy shell mounds likely reinforcing connections to ancestral territories throughout subsequent periods of Mexican and American settlement in the San Francisco Bay area.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View