Shellmounds of the Bay Area

Annual Black Friday Prayer Ceremony at the Emeryville Shellmound

Shellmounds are sacred burial sites of the Ohlone and Coast Miwok peoples. They are considered by Ohlone people to be living cemeteries, places of prayer, veneration and connection with the ancestors. “Shellmounds are places where we laid our ancestors to rest,” Corrina Gould explains. “We actually buried them in the soil and then covered them with shell and then more soil. As the years and centuries went by, these mounds grew larger and larger. They became monuments to the people that lived here in the Bay Area.”

As settlers flooded into the San Francisco area during the Gold Rush, the leveling and desecration of shellmounds began, clearing the way for development. Noticing the rate at which the mounds were vanishing, an archeologist from UC Berkeley named Nels Nelson worked to create a map in 1909 of those which remained. His map identified 425 distinct shellmound sites ringing the San Francisco Bay. Today, only a handful of those remain in a natural state. Most lie buried beneath parking lots and buildings.

“We need to continue our obligations that were given to us by our ancestors to sing there, to pray there, to have communication. Our spirituality is not based in churches and in buildings—it is place based.”

—Corrina Gould, Tribal Spokeperson

For more information about the ongoing struggle to protect the West Berkeley Shellmound visit