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William H. Olsen

This article originally appeared in Symposium: A New Look at some Old Sites, Papers from the Symposium Organized by Francis A. Riddell, Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for California Archaeology, March 23-26, 1983, San Diego, California. Coyote Press Archives of California Prehistory 6:59-64, 1986.

The King Brown site, first recorded in the 1930s by the Sacramento Junior College as S-29 (CA-SAC-29 in the trinomial system), was noted as a "Late" Period site in the Sacramento Junior College 1939 publication (Lillard, Heizer, and Fenenga 1939: Map 4). Excavation in 1940 under the direction of Franklin (n.d.) yielded 26 burials and a variety of non-grave associated artifacts. Though these excavations have never been formally reported, material from the site was used in Gifford's (1947) monographs on shell and bone artifacts, and in James Bennyhoff's (1950) paper on fishing implements from California.

In the Spring of 1954, Dr. Richard Reeve, of the Sacramento State College Anthropology Department, was notified of the possibility of the destruction of the site. Arrangements were made at that time to excavate as much of the site as was possible before its destruction took place. The excavation of the site began in 1954 and continued until the Summer of 1956, when permission to excavate was rescinded due to the imminence of the construction program. In the Fall of 1956, the site was partially leveled for streets and residential construction.

The Sacramento State College excavations yielded nearly 150 burials and during the leveling of the site some 75 to 100 additional burials were noted, but not all were recorded. In addition, a variety of features, including a large structure, interpreted as a dance house, were documented.

In 1967, it became clear that the construction of Interstate 5 would obliterate a portion of the remaining vestiges of the cultural deposit. Under the direction of William Pritchard, final excavations were carried out under the auspices of the State Department of Parks and Recreation. Though a portion of the cultural deposit may still exist, this brief chronology documents the demise of one of the major sites in the urban Sacramento area. The history of King Brown site is of interest in that it falls in what may be termed the pioneering period, the post-World War II resurgence, and the early portion of what some have termed the "environmental" orientation to archaeology in central California. Emphasis in the 1940s and the 1950s was on the acquisition of material remains and the fitting of the archaeological record into an already developed taxonomic system for central California (Beardsley 1954; Gerow with Force 1968; Fredrickson 1974). On this basis, what did the systematic and salvage efforts finally provide as the last will and testament for this site? Briefly, the analysis of the 1940s and 1950s collections yielded evidence of more or less continuous occupation for at least 2000 years, that is, the "Middle" and all portions of the "Late" periods in the Central California System. The 1967 work yielded additional evidence of late period occupation, and provided data on mound structure and the basal portions of the site.

A summary of the archaeological data from the site in terms of identified cultural/temporal periods is as follows:1 A short lived historic occupation is attested by a small series of burials and one cremation. These burials range from 12 to 33 inches in depth and the cultural material included with them includes glass beads of a limited variety of types, clamshell disc beads, Olivella beads, including saucers, end-perforated large rectangular and small thin discs. Haliotis shell ornaments including pentagonal and rectangular forms. Cut bone tubes, with and without fine line incising, fragments of chipped obsidian bifaces, stone discoidals, a bead grinding slab and carbonized textile material complete the inventory. One burial, recovered by Sacramento Junior College, was noted as having been buried in a box made of planed pine boards. A few fragments of badly corroded metal may represent a knife blade associated with the single historic cremation.

Protohistoric occupation of the site is well attested with both Phases I and II of the Late period represented (chronological reference is Moratto 1984: Figure 5.7). Seventeen burials may be assigned to the Phase II period on the basis of the following traits: Saxidomas clam disc beads, tubular Tivela clam beads, Olivella beads including spire lopped, saucer, thick rectangles with end perforations, and both thick and thin lipped beads and small disc beads. Stone beads include both magnesite and steatite discs. Haliotis shell ornaments typically are of rectangular, circular, and triangular forms, some of which exhibit multiple perforation. Bone artifacts include bone tubes with and without incising, paired birdbone whistles with centered stops, and bone awls. Stone material includes "Stockton" serrated projectile points, "Desert Side-notched" points, a fragment of a stone pipe with double basal rings, completely dressed stone pestles, a girdled cobble net or line weight, and quartz crystals. The burials with which these traits occur were recovered at depths of up to 42 inches in the 1940 excavations.2 Of considerable interest also was the recordation of a large house structure from this period. Based on architectural traits the structure clearly represents a protohistoric dance house. Its size, 40 feet wide by 50 feet long, and its shape, subrectangular, are not exactly like foothill dance structures, but overall similarities to Foothill Miwok or Nisenan dance houses are evident.

The Phase I Late period is represented by 15 burials and two cremations. Diagnostic material recovered with this group of burials includes the following: Haliotis shell ornaments of mostly rectangular, circular, or triangular form, along with several types of "banjo" shaped ornaments. Olivella shell beads include thin, centrally perforated rectangles and split punched half shell beads, the latter rare. Both magnesite and steatite discs occurred, but in limited numbers. Stone artifacts included a flanged steatite pipe, along with serrated and possibly "Desert Side-notched" projectile points (Baumhoff and Byrne 1959). Bone and antler artifacts are rare and none are noted from the site with burials assignable to this period. A salvage burial produced a single bone harpoon and two bird bone tubes which may belong to this period. The burial is, however, without depth data.

Burials attributable to the Phase I period were recovered from depths of 48 to 84 inches, with several burials being recovered at depths shallower than this. It must be noted that no Phase I burials were recovered in the 1954 to 1956 excavations other than in a salvage context. Those recovered by Sacramento Junior College were in a different area of the site.

The best documented period at the King Brown site is the Middle period, with over 100 of the attributable burials recovered to this period on the basis of associated artifactual material. Analysis of the grave associations indicates that while clearly of the Middle period, traits are present which previously have only occurred in a "late" context.

The depth of the burials attributed to this period varied from 36 to 120 inches. Burial position and orientation was variable with the majority of the burials flexed on the side or back. The deepest burial recovered was dorsally extended. Burial orientation when seated was random; clearly at variance with the preceding Early period. Based on rather impressionistic data it would appear that at least two or more discrete cemeteries occurred in the site.3

The most frequent Olivella shell bead from the Middle component of the site is the modified saddle, with 39 burial occurrences. They occur with all but the deepest burial, with a depth range of 36 to 112 inches. Other popular bead forms include large spire-lopped Olivella and small, thin disc beads. Small spire-lopped Olivella beads, and split, drilled, half shell beads, occurred rarely and in small numbers.

The Haliotis shell ornaments and beads recovered differ little from those recovered from other Middle Horizon components in form, but significantly few of the specimens are of green abalone, previously noted as a "diagnostic" of the Middle period (Lillard, Heizer, and Fenenga 1939; Beardsley 1954). The types represented include cut rim strips, rectangular, including small and large variants, the latter with central perforation, and circular including both edge-perforated and centrally-perforated forms. Split disc ornaments also occurred. Most popular in number of burial occurrences, 20 , were triangular pendants which occur so frequently in some Phase I components (Riddell and Olsen n.d.). Haliotis shell beads include an irregularly shaped form with single perforation and a double perforated variant.

The bone and antler artifact assemblage includes a wide range of implement forms, with several of these being unique in a Middle context. Familiar bone artifacts recovered include bone awls, some with trimmed bases, bone pins, one of which shows a constriction near the base, bone and antler spatulae, one with a perforated base, rectangular, scapular mesh gauges, antler wedges, unilaterally barbed fish spears with both single and double, barbed types and one set of a non-barbed type, notched "acorn" shaped atlatl spurs (Riddell and McGeein 1969), a split elk tibia "wand,"4 cut bone tubes, a single bird bone whistle with off-center stop and modified coyote radii. New classes of bone artifacts which occurred in the same context include an antler discoidal and incised bird bone tubes. The pattern exhibited on these tubes is reminiscent of some Late period incised bone tubes, but differs in the execution of the incising.

The inventory of stone artifacts is somewhat limited, with chipped stone points being most frequent in number of grave occurrences. Other types of stone goods which occur include charmstones of both the "fishtail" form and perforated symmetrical plummet form, a large hemispherical, biconically drilled, steatite bead, curved, perforated steatite or calcite pendants, quartz crystals, and red pigment in both lump and powdered form. One occurrence of a bed of red pigment under a burial was noted -- during the leveling of the site -- and was thus poorly documented.

Chipped stone points at the King Brown site were mostly made of obsidian, but chert and basalt were also utilized to a lesser degree. The most frequent form is leaf-shaped with an extremely well-flaked subtype and a more poorly executed subtype. The well-made examples are large, heavy, and invariably made of obsidian. The second form also is leaf-shaped, but has shallow notches near the base without producing a stem. The last form is stemmed with well defined shoulders. The stemmed examples occur only in chert or basalt and not in obsidian.

All of the projectile points recovered from the Middle period range in weight from 3.5 to over 50 grams, and average about 17 grams, and thus would appear to fall neatly into Fenenga's (1953) "dart" point class.

Carbonized material was recorded as occurring with nine Middle period burials, but unfortunately only a single lot has survived. This lot, associated with a burial (No. 123), was recovered at a depth of 111 inches. It had the following associations: modified saddle Olivella beads, triangular Haliotis shell ornaments, a bird bone bead, red pigment, irregular Haliotis beads, and a split rib spatula. The carbonized material consists of two baskets, one coil and one twine (Catlow twine), cordage, and a cordage wrapped stick (Baumhoff 1957). A sample of this carbonized material submitted for a radiocarbon determination returned a date of 1750 ± 500 years, or A.D. 200 (M-752).

What may we conclude from a reappraisal of the data from the King Brown Site? First, Bennyhoff's (1977) conclusion equating CA-SAC-29 with the historic Nisenan tribelet center of Sama is supported by the occurrence of a dance house and a series of protohistoric burials, although on the basis of archaeological evidence the size of the late protohistoric population is far from clear. Possibly the village derived its importance from control of a major fishing point on the Sacramento River or from its position adjacent to the downstream Miwok villages. Reanalysis of the collections and other data may well shed light on these and other facets of the relationship between the Nisenan and Miwok. Reuse of the site during the Sutter period (1840s) as a fishing camp is supported by a poorly represented historic occupation. We really know little of the early historic period in the Lower Sacramento Valley and of Sutter's relations with Nisenan groups based on archaeology. Though poorly understood, archival sources and existing collections could still yield valuable data on this period, not only from CA-SAC-29, but from other Sacramento and American River Nisenan sites. Second, the occurrence of a series of "proto" late period traits in the Middle component of the site is an enigma in the archaeological record. While it may be convenient to view such typical "late" manifestations such as preinterment grave pit burning, abundant grave associations, and the occurrence of several specific ornamental artifact forms as prototypes of the Late period, I find it difficult to support this hypothesis in the light of the other major changes which occur in the Phase I Late period. One might be led to suspect that casual factors for the Middle/Late pattern changes result from in-place socio/religious developments rather than as a result of environmental factors or external population pressures. Continuity in some artifact forms from the Middle component at CA-SAC-29 to early Phase I components to the north could indicate either persistence through time, with possible cultural continuity, or coeval Middle/Late populations. Explanations for the changes from Middle to Phase I are far from clear and may ultimately be approachable only after analysis of the as yet unreported archaeological record in the Northern Sacramento Valley.


1 References to current or previous typologies have been deleted in favor of descriptive terms.

2 These 1940 excavations are noted as occurring in the "northwest quarter" of the site. The later (1950s) work was in other areas of the site, thus depth measurements are not exactly comparable.

3 These impressions were gained from the horizontal differences noted when the site was leveled in 1956.

4 Occurrence of split tibia "wands" spans both Middle and Late Phase I components, but seemingly occur only in a limited context, i.e., Upper Middle-Transitional or early Phase I components.


Baumhoff, M.A. 1953. Carbonized Basketry from the Thomas Site. Appendix in: C.W. Meighan, ed., Preliminary Excavation at the Thomas Site, Marin County. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 19.

Baumhoff, M.A. 1957. Catlow Twine from Central California. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 38.

Baumhoff, M.A. and J.S. Byrne. 1959. Desert Side-notched Points as a Time Marker in California. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 48:32-65.

Beardsley, R.K. 1954. Temporal and Areal Relationships in Central California Archaeology. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 24 and 25.

Bennyhoff, J.A. 1950. California Fish Spears and Harpoons. University of California Anthropological Records 9(4).

Cook, S.F. and A.B. Elsasser. 1956. Burials in the Sand Mounds of the Delta Region of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River System. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 35.

Davis, J.T. and A.E. Treganza. 1959. The Patterson Mound: A Comparative Analysis of the Archaeology of Site ALA-328. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 47:1-92.

Fenenga, F. 1953. The Weight of Chipped Stone Points: A Clue to their Functions. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 9(3):309-333.

Gerow, B.A. (with R.B. Force). 1968. An Analysis of the University Village Complex with a Reappraisal of Central California Archaeology. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Gifford, E.W. 1947. Californian Shell Artifacts. University of California Anthropological Records 9(1):1-114.

Heizer, R.F. 1958. Archaeological Radiocarbon Dates from California and Nevada. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 44.

Lillard, J.B., R.F. Heizer and F. Fenenga. 1939. An Introduction to the Archaeology of Central California. Sacramento Junior College, Department of Anthropology Bulletin 2.

Moratto, M.J. 1984. California Archaeology. Academic Press, Orlando.

Riddell, F.A. and W.H. Olsen. n.d. Notes on the Mustang Site (4-Yol-13). Ms. on file with the author.

Riddell, F.A. and D.F. McGeein. 1969 Atlatl Spurs from California. American Antiquity 34(4):474-478.

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