Archaeology Reveals Past Lives of Bay Area Native Tribe: Phil Gross and Far Western Produce National PBS Documentary

Charlene Nimjeh (Muwekma Ohlone Tribe Leader), Monica Arellano and Brian Byrd examine artifacts at Far Western’s lab

Time Has Many Voices, a film created by Phil Gross and Far Western’s Brian Byrd, to be aired on PBS stations around the country as part of Native American Heritage Month, tells the story of the modern-day people of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area who partnered with Byrd’s firm, Far Western Anthropological Research Group, in the excavation of Sii Túupentak, a pre-contact Ohlone village in the Sunol Valley.

Excavators sift dirt to find the smallest of artifacts at the Síi Túupentak site

Using cutting edge archeological science to reveal details about individual Muwekma ancestors, the documentary brings to life new discoveries of how the tribe flourished in the East Bay for millennia as part of a vast network of California Native peoples who thrived from the bay marshes to the coastal ranges. The arrival of the Spanish in the late 1700s brought enslavement, colonial rule, starvation and disease, and, in 1925, the United States government declared the Ohlone extinct. Despite that declaration, the film emphasizes that the Muwekma Ohlone survive and thrive to this day. With the help of science, the Muwekma hoped not only to discover stories of their ancestors and honor their past, but to lay claim to their existence and pave the way for the future of this Ohlone tribe.  

This is the third film collaboration between Davis based Far Western and director Phil Gross to be offered to PBS. In 2003, their film The Obsidian Trail was presented by KVIE in Sacramento and aired on more than 40 stations nationwide. A more recent film, A Point in Time (2019), chronicling the archaeological search for the earliest inhabitants of the Nevada Great Basin is currently streaming on PBS via KLVX Las Vegas. 

Time has Many Voices premiered locally on Monday, Nov. 7, at 10 p.m. on KVIE Sacramento. It will be shown on other regional PBS stations and will have nationwide distribution later this month. It is currently streaming on and can be accessed on that site by typing “Time Has Many Voices” in the search window. 

Publication of Seven Thousand Years of Native American History in the Sacramento Valley

Far Western is pleased to announce the publication of Seven Thousand Years of Native American History in the Sacramento Valley: Results of Archaeological Investigations Near Hamilton City, California, by Dr. William R. Hildebrandt and Kelly R. McGuire, with contributions by Dr. Adrian Whitaker and Dr. Brian Byrd, as well as Laboratory Director Laura Harold. Publication would not have been possible without close collaboration with the Mechoopda Indian Tribe.

This volume, available through the University of Utah Anthropological Papers, shares the discovery of four archaeological sites deeply buried under a young floodplain. The oldest site dates to 7,000 years ago and revealed a diverse assemblage of artifacts among a rich assortment of food remains. The other three sites date between 4000 and 300 years ago. These sites show changes in population density, technological innovation, and the rise of sedentism and territoriality. Dating to just before 300 years ago, the most recent site featured a house complex, likely occupied by the Mechoopda Indian Tribe and provided a culmination to the historical sequence evident in the artifacts and features.

The archaeological sites featured in this publication highlight the rich and diverse environment of northern California’s Sacramento Valley, which supported some of the densest populations of non-agricultural people in the world. The investigation also highlights how alluvium deposited during periodic flooding buries sites and their cultural remains, preserving an archaeological record that may be otherwise invisible on the surface of those landscapes that have only formed recently.

“This book is hugely important. It is the first publication that provides a well-supported backstory for the emergence of the California acorn economy. It includes fish and botanical remains from well-dated, well-sampled occupations that indicate reliance on acorns and fishing as far back as 7,000 cal BP., pushing the roots of this remarkable way of life thousands of years earlier than previously thought.”

—Terry L. Jones, professor of anthropology, California Polytechnic State University

“This will stand as important regional literature. The discovery of extremely ancient archaeological deposits in the Sacramento Valley, where old surfaces and sites are generally buried beneath thick alluvium, is of itself important. The study also reports on robust faunal and botanical assemblages that are largely lacking from this area.”

—Mark E. Basgall, professor emeritus, Department of Anthropology, California

Archaeology Education for the Visually-impaired Community

Following the 2017 Nuns Fire in the Napa region, a PG&E forester uncovered artifacts that are currently being used to help educate the members of the Visually-impaired community about the regions past. In a joint effort, PG&E partners and Far Western Principal Investigator Eric Wohlgemuth and Art Director Tammara Norton delivered artifacts and educational materials to Enchanted Hills Camp, where adults and children who are blind, Deafblind, or have low vision will be able to interact with them.

“The artifact collection will live here rather than an academic or museum setting. It will be used in different ways. Parts will be used in a touch box, where we made replicates that students can handle, with Braille tags explaining what they were used for. We will put the collection in a display case, with a resource guide in Braille that explains and describes the findings and gives information about the Wappo Tribe,” said Dr. Eric Wohlgemuth, Far Western Anthropological Research Group.

“This is an unparalleled opportunity for students who are blind or have low vision to learn about archaeology in a tactile way,” he added.

In addition to the tags, an educational book about the excavation is provided both in Braille and in print. Together the tags and educational book provide the students with information about the Wappo Tribe.

The items uncovered point to the site being used as a family summer camp, with artifacts including tools for cutting, scraping, and grinding, spearpoints, arrowheads, animal bones, and beads made from ocean shells, all dating from 200-400 years ago. During the excavation process, archaeologists uncovered a larger obsidian dart point that was used with atlatl (spear-thrower), which is estimated to be 920-750 years old.

The camp is located in the forest of Mount Veeder, on what is the traditional land of the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley.

To read the full PG&E article:

McGuire earns the SCA Baumhoff Award

At the 2022 SCA Annual meeting, Kelly McGuire, one of Far Western’s founders, was awarded the Martin A. Baumhoff Special Achievement Award. Here’s a bit of what Bill Hildebrandt had to say about presenting Kelly with this award:

“This award is for people that have a career of conducting outstanding research and publication. This year’s recipient, Kelly McGuire, has certainly achieved these things and much, much more. Kelly has had a long and successful career in archaeology and has shown a remarkable ability to translate his findings into publications that are relevant to regional, national, and international audiences. He is a founding member of Far Western Anthropological Research Group, and the only person that has worked there for its entire 42-year history. California archaeology would not be what it is today without McGuire’s contribution to the creation and ongoing success of Far Western. Kelly McGuire’s multi-decade record of conducting meaningful research and publishing his findings in the some of the most prestigious archaeological outlets that we have, makes him a deserving recipient of the Martin A. Baumhoff Special Achievement Award.”

Congrats Kelly!

Newest Additions to the Principal Team

​​​​​​We are excited to announce that Shannon DeArmond, Phil Kaijankoski, and Cassidy DeBaker will be joining Far Western as company principals this fall.  They join Kelly McGuire, Jeff Rosenthal, Craig Young, Jay King, Paul Brandy, Daron Duke, Adie Whitaker, and Barb Siskin.  We are glad to have them on board in this time of rapid growth for the company, and we feel they exemplify the skills and values that make Far Western special.

Shannon is the company’s geographic information systems (GIS) department supervisor and has worked for Far Western since 2010. She has over twenty years of experience using GIS in cultural resources management. Her responsibilities include overseeing a wide range of geographic data-collection and management projects, designing and deploying customized data applications, and overseeing project-specific data collection and cartography in support of archaeological fieldwork.

Shannon received her Bachelors of Science degree from the University of California, Davis, in Environmental Resource Science with an emphasis in geology. She is a member of Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), the Society of Conservation GIS, and the California Geographical Society.

Cassidy is a principal investigator, historical archaeologist, and tribal liaison at Far Western. She graduated from University of Oregon in 2001 with a degree in Archaeology and Environmental Studies. She received her master’s in Cultural Resources Management from Sonoma State University in 2012.  Cassidy has been working in CRM for more than eighteen years as a professional archaeologist, with research, fieldwork, and analysis focused in northern and central California and the Pacific islands.

At Far Western she is responsible for overseeing cultural resources projects to ensure that compliance and technical investigations meet the highest standards, including contracting, budgeting, field study, research, analysis, report production, and staff training.  She directs Far Western’s historical archaeology program.

Phil serves as a principal investigator and geoarchaeologist. He graduated from California State University, Chico in 2001 with a major in Anthropology and a minor in geology. He continued to pursue his interest in geoarchaeology while at Sonoma State University, where he received his Master’s in 2006.

He has been working as a professional archaeologist since 2000. In 2008, Phil joined Far Western as a geoarchaeologist working under his mentor Jack Meyer. His role later expanded to principal investigator as he authored numerous excavation reports on the archaeology of the San Francisco Bay Area, Northern and Central California coast, and the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.   

His current research interests include Holocene landscape evolution, paleoenvironmental change, and their effects on people living in the past.

Accessible Archaeology

Translation: Oregon, Wappo Territory, Pacific Ocean, California, Nevada, Baja California

In October of 2017, numerous wildfires driven by high winds burned over 200,000 acres in Northern California. One of these, the Nuns Fire, burned over 56,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties. The fire burned through portions of the Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind and Visually Impaired, on forested Mt. Veeder eight miles northwest of Napa. After the fires, a PG&E forester visited the area to look for trees that would have to be removed near power lines. With the groundcover burned away, the forester saw a dense scatter of artifacts on the ground surface. Eric Wohlgemuth led the archaeological work at the site and found surprisingly dense artifacts, bone, and shell, including a fish bone from San Pablo Bay 25 kilometers away. The site was used as a short-term hunting camp about 900 years ago, then as a summer family camp about 400 years ago. Eric worked with Art Director, Tammara Norton to produce a truly unique educational booklet about the site…in Braille. The booklet includes raised impressions of a map showing the location of the Camp and the Wappo Tribe territory, a projectile point, biface, flake knife, and bone awl. The booklet will accompany the artifact collection that will be used to teach the Camp students about Native Americans.

Translation: Obsidian Biface Enlarged and Obsidian Scraper Enlarged

Sharon Waechter – 30 Years at Far Western

Sharon Waechter Featured Image
Sharon Waechter

After 30 years at Far Western, our esteemed colleague Sharon A. Waechter is retiring. Sharon’s collaboration and leadership in Native American archaeology, historical archaeology, and public outreach, as well as her editorial skill, exemplify the hard work that has made our company a success.

Sharon has worked as a professional archaeologist in California and Nevada since 1979. Her positions have included District Archaeologist and Assistant Forest Archaeologist with the Eldorado National Forest (five years); Resource Area Archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management, Arcata (two years); Staff Archaeologist at the Cultural Resources Facility, Sonoma State University (three years); and as Principal Investigator, Field Director, report author, and general editor with Far Western since 1991. Her areas of special expertise and interest include the archaeology and history of the Truckee/Tahoe region and the northern Sierra, and public education and interpretation. Rarely backing away from applying new technology and methods to her projects, Sharon incorporated the use of GPS early on and has always advocated a multi-disciplinary approach, from geoarchaeology to forensic dogs, to complete her projects.

While Sharon has extensive background in archaeology, she also holds an M.A. in English/Creative Writing. Her editorial contributions are woven into almost every Far Western deliverable, from our style guides to interpretive panels dotting the public landscape of California and Nevada, to numerous brochures, booklets, reports, peer-reviewed articles, and books.

Many thanks to Sharon from Far Western Principals and our many archaeologists, past and present, for so many years of collaboration and hard work.

Jay King, Far Western President

We are happy to share that Jay King has been elected the new President of Far Western. 

Jay has worked as an archaeologist in California and the Great Basin since 1991; he began working at Far Western in 1999 and became a principal at the company in 2015. His archaeological work has been published in American Antiquity, the Journal of Archaeological Science, the American Museum of Natural History Anthropological Papers, the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, and other outlets.  He is also a GIS and database specialist, having worked on a wide range of cultural resources data-management projects for clients such as Caltrans, the Bureau of Land Management, and the California Historical Resources Information Centers. 


Kelly McGuire will be resuming his role as Principal/Principal Investigator. Thank you, Kelly, for your leadership during this unprecedented year.


Congratulations, Jay!  

The Historic Aspens of Peavine Mountain (Film)

Far Western Art Director Tammara Norton and Phil Gross of Cinnabar Video recently completed a short film for the Forest Service as part of mitigation measures at Peavine Mountain Aspen Grove Arborglyphs (26Wa9933/04170114361).

Basque historian Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe takes the viewer on a tour of a grove of carved aspen trees on Peavine Mountain, Nevada. Some of the trees are over 100 years old. Interwoven into the tour is background information on the history of Basque Sheepherding in the western states.

This 12-minute video can be found on the Forest Service YouTube site as The Historic Aspens of Peavine Mountain.

CARD Volume 20: The Archaeology of Síi Túupentak. Now Available!

Protohistoric Village Organization and Territorial Maintenance: The Archaeology of Síi Túupentak (CA-ALA-565/H) in the San Francisco Bay Areaby Brian F. Byrd, Laurel Engbring, Michael Darcangelo and Allika Ruby (Published by Center for Archaeological Research at Davis, CARD Publication 20, editor Gregory H. Wada; 39 contributors, 19 chapters, 552 pages) 

This monograph presents the results of extensive archaeological investigations at Síi Túupentak (Place of the Water Round House Site), a large ancestral Native American Ohlone village and associated cemetery in the southeast San Francisco Bay area, U.S.A. This was collaborative study by an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Far Western and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe (Tribe) descendant community and supported by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The study documents the lifeways of the village inhabitants for four centuries prior to their forced relocation in 1805, exploring economic adaptations, health, and social-political organization. 

As requested by the Tribe prior to the start of the project, detailed archaeometric analysis was carried out on the ancestral Ohlone individuals recovered from burial excavations to gain new insights into community trends, social and ideological complexity, and the lives of these individuals. Archaeometric analyses of individuals included: radiocarbon dating; amelogenin proteins in teeth to determine sex of the entire population; ancient DNA (full genome, oral microbiome, and occasionally for tuberculosis); isotopic composition (C, N, S, Sr) for weaning age; diet; and individual residential shifts during lifetimes; and tobacco use from nicotine in dental calculus 

Tribal members and representatives of the scientific community are collectively looking into the lives and tragedy of the death of people from the past. For the Tribe, this includes sex determination to provide a greater perspective on the persona of each individual, rather than the nebulous “indeterminate” status of a person or child. If it were not for their sacrifice, struggles, and commitment to their families, Muwekma Ohlone would not survive to this day. Today, the Muwekma Ohlone celebrate the lives of their ancestors by retelling their history and stories through archaeology, and ultimately honor them when they are returned to the warep (the earth), where their loved ones originally placed them with love and respect.

The results demonstrate this was a substantial sedentary village, probably the most significant community within the Causen Ohlone territory. This study highlights temporal trends in community-level organization, economic structure; demographics, health and diet, social identify; and regional inter-community interaction and alliance maintenance. The study provides a bridge of Ohlone lifeways from pre-contact through post-contact. New insights are provided into indigenous lifeways from just prior to early European exploration, through some 30 years of Spanish colonization, and ultimately the forced relocation to nearby mission enclaves  a period of momentous change in the lives of native people. 


Click here to order from CARD