At Scotts Valley City Hall, Santa Cruz County’s oldest documented archaeological site display gets an update

Archaeologist Rob Edwards describes what will go in the new display about the Scotts Valley archaeological site at city hall.
Archaeologist Rob Edwards describes what will go in the new display about the Scotts Valley archaeological site at city hall.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz )

While most Santa Cruz County residents might not realize it, one of the oldest documented archaeological sites in California is located under the Scotts Valley City Hall and police department. Local archaeologists and community members are upgrading a display at the Scotts Valley City Hall to reflect its importance.

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On a visit to Scotts Valley’s City Hall in February, archaeologist Rob Edwards noticed something unusual about a display about the archaeological site the city hall and parking lot sit on.

“I realized that the original artifacts were in there, and they should not have ever been on display,” said Edwards, a longtime Cabrillo College anthropology professor. “They shouldn’t have been in an unprotected area. I mean, these are artifacts that are 7,000 to 12,000 years old.” That makes the site the oldest documented archeological site in Santa Cruz County.

That visit led to a project that has brought Edwards out of retirement. For the past several months, the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society and Edwards have been working with artists, archaeologists, Indigenous groups and exhibit designers to upgrade the display — and to safeguard the artifacts themselves.

An artifact-reproduction artist now focuses on 20 of the originals, creating replicas organizers hope will go on display by spring, while Ohlone artist and muralist Linda Yamane works on an overall design for new work, incorporating what is believed to have been the landscape at the time. The new signage will share insights about the activities that were likely happening at the site, based on the understanding of how the artifacts were being used thousands of years ago.

A sign at Scotts Valley's archeology display outlines the coming changes.
A sign at the city hall display outlines coming changes.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Overall, the new display located in the Scotts Valley City Hall will be much larger — almost twice as tall at 87 inches, while maintaining a width at 102 inches wide.

The 20 or so original artifacts being replicated will join the approximately 13,000 original artifacts that were originally excavated from the site, held in an archival collection at UC Santa Cruz. About 160 were in the display until Edwards removed them, with the 20 to be replicated going to the artist and the rest to the university.

In the meantime, the Scotts Valley display sits empty, with a sign informing visitors of the plans for the redesign and a temporary mural by Yamane.

The new and upgraded work will cost about $20,000, and a committee formed by the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society has so far raised 90% of the needed funds.

Retired UCSC anthropology professor Diane Gifford-Gonzalez helped oversee the 1983 excavation of the site, where the Scotts Valley City Hall and police station now sit.

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From 1978 to 2018, she also served as curator of UCSC’s Monterey Bay Archaeology Archives, which house about 13,000 Scotts Valley artifacts excavated 40 years ago.

“I think it’s really important that people understand that Native people have been here a really long time,” said Gifford-Gonzalez. “What we’re dealing with is an extraordinary example of a way of living that may have been widespread in the American West, in Southern California, in Central California — this sort of lakeside, or estuary, living.”

Scotts Valley City Hall.
Scotts Valley City Hall.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

Now, with the new attention paid to the artifacts and their storytelling, Edwards has begun working with other archaeologists on interpreting what activities were happening in Scotts Valley in those times.

Edwards and Gifford-Gonzalez hope the new display will help raise awareness of the site and its significance.

“The display case is hopefully not just something that the people in the city hall walk by and say, oh, yeah, we had to do that back in the ‘80s,” said Gifford-Gonzalez, laughing, as she refers to the contentious politics over the artifact removal as the complex was being built. “But instead, people say, ‘Hey, this is something that’s really neat. It’s right next door. And this area’s been inhabited over all this time.’”

A battle of archaeologists and Scotts Valley city government officials

When city officials began the work to develop the property for Scotts Valley’s future city hall and police department in the 1970s, an archaeological firm surveying the land found the first objects showing that the location might be archaeologically significant. Archaeologists wanted time to excavate, and the city was in a rush to meet a deadline — and so the battle began.

Archaeological Resource Management, a firm led by Robert Cartier, surveyed the land and submitted a report to the Scotts Valley City Council informing it of the site’s significance and requesting time to excavate before construction began. The Santa Cruz Archaeological Society, for which Edwards was serving as an advisor at the time, also asked the city to allow further studies of the site ahead of the city hall’s construction.

The city council and then-mayor Friend Stone refused to acknowledge the credibility of the report, according to Edwards.

Outgoing Scotts Valley Mayor Donna Lind, who has worked in the city since she was in high school 54 years ago, recalls that someone had donated the property to the city to build its new city hall with the condition that it had to break ground by a certain date.

Scotts Valley Mayor Donna Lind discusses the city's history at city hall.
Mayor Donna Lind discusses Scotts Valley’s history at city hall.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

Close to that date and still arguing with the archaeologists, Stone went out to the property with a tractor and broke ground, according to Lind.

“Then everyone came unglued,” she said. “But with that, he was able to keep the deadline.”

Edwards said Stone’s stunt caused significant destruction of the site.

Without other options, the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society sued the city. In 1982, Edwards says, the city agreed in a settlement to fund mitigation efforts of the site and to give better consideration to cultural sites in the future.

Their findings

A date for the 1983 excavation was set for Memorial Day weekend. About 200 archaeologists and students from over 10 universities, four community colleges and cultural resource management firms helped in the excavation.

“Wherever there was the energy about archaeology at that time, it got focused on Scotts Valley,” said Edwards.

Excavators unearth artifacts at the archaeological site located under the Scotts Valley City Hall in 1983.
Excavators work to unearth and preserve artifacts at the archaeological site now located under the Scotts Valley City Hall and parking lot during Memorial Day weekend in 1983.
(Via Rob Edwards)

The Santa Cruz Archaeological Society and Archaeological Resource Management produced a study of the site arguing it dates back to between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago based on tests of the artifacts found. The team collected more than 13,000 stone artifacts from two excavations — one in 1983 and a second in 1987.

In 1990, after the building was completed, a city hall lobby display told the story, and it had remained untouched — with some of those original artifacts — until Edwards took note of it about a year ago.

At that point, he reached out to the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society, which set up a committee — of which he is chair — to lead the project to update the display. Edwards also reached out to the Scotts Valley Historical Society and Scotts Valley City Manager Mali LaGoe. They all agreed it should be taken down and the artifacts put on file in the archaeological archives at UCSC.

Archaeological society committee members include Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Chairman Val Lopez, University of Oregon Assistant Professor of Anthropology Gabriel Sanchez and the archaeological society’s vice president, Pat Paramoure, among several others.

Edwards likes to recall a comment made by Rey Retzlaff, who succeeded Stone as Scotts Valley mayor after the excavations were done. Retzlaff took some of the volunteers to a pizza parlor to express his gratitude.

“I’m not sure why what you all have done is important,” Edwards said Retzlaff told the group. “But your work has convinced me that it must be important, and I thank you all for your efforts.”

A display case at Scotts Valley City Hall awaits its upgrade.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated to reflect Gabriel Sanchez’s current position.


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