The artifacts, structures and environments that tell the story of human communities on the land are irreplaceable cultural resources. Preserving them enables archaeologists, ethnographers, historians and other investigators to reconstruct and interpret the lives of earlier inhabitants. The picture they construct may be hazy and full of gaps but it provides a context that deepens the experience of current residents.
Santa Clara Valley has been the home territory of different societies for dozens of centuries. Though evidence of human occupation reaches back 10,000 years, little is known about these first people. The Ohlone, who were living in the area when the Spanish arrived, are thought to have come to the region about 1,500 years ago.
Hunter gatherers, these Native Americans lived in small groups and established semi permanent villages and hunting camps. Because these settlements were often located along streams, several Open Space Authority lands comprise the type of habitat that supported early Ohlone home sites. Preserving these landscapes, protecting cultural resources and interpreting Native American culture are OSA priorities.
The protection of Native American culture got a big boost in 1976 when California established the Native American Heritage Commission to identify and catalog Native American cultural resources. In 2001 the state passed a Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The law created a means for returning artifacts and human remains and required museums to inventory their collections.
Artifacts from other periods and cultures are also recognized and protected by state regulations. The California Environmental Quality Act requires that impacts to unique archaeological resources be evaluated so they can be preserved or the impacts mitigated. A unique resource is one that has particular scientific value, is the oldest or best of its kind, or is associated with an important event or person.
Many of the lands owned and managed by the Authority have a long ranching history. Cattle chutes, fencing, houses, barns and other structures are evaluated for their historic and cultural significance when a property is purchased. Many of the remnants of the valley’s past, though not unique by definition, are maintained for their interpretive value.
One event of recognized historic significance and associated with the very important Don Juan Bautista de Anza involves OSA lands. In April 1776 the Anza Expedition was headed back to Monterey and trying to find a way through the Diablo Range. It was a difficult crossing in rough terrain. The party picked up Coyote Creek and followed it south through a steep and rocky canyon. Where the creek opened into a wide valley dotted with sycamore trees the troop gratefully made camp. This site was purchased and preserved by the Authority in 2001.