Op-ed: Berkeley must protect its cultural inheritance

“West Berkeley Shellmound dates back 5,800 years and is the oldest Shellmound in the area by about 1,000 years” Richard Schwartz. Berkeley Voice, April 15, 2016.

As many of you of may (or may not) know the City of Berkeley has decided to allow the re-development of Spenger’s Fish Grotto to go forward in spite of the finding of human remains dating back almost 6,000 years. This project would be an estimated 207,590 square feet of stores, restaurants, luxury apartments and a 372- foot parking structure, all of which may resemble the Bay Street shopping center in Emeryville which was also the site of a Shellmound now destroyed.

News of this recent finding has brought me back to a summer when I traveled to Iran, my parent’s country, where I heard tales of a much different burial site. My grandmother and great aunt recounted the most intriguing childhood memory of their childhood home in the province of Kermanshah. Their village, Kangavar, set in North-Western Iran, was built on a few hills in the belly of the valley. It was a quiet and uneventful village which had a legend. This legend was formed by those who , while digging their gardens found human remains. Children believed there was a serpent living under them who would sacrifice humans. They lived in the shadow of this demon until the 1930s when archeologists came to investigate.

They claimed that the village was built on top of 2,000-year-old remains which had to be studied to learn about ancient civilization. Half of the village was moved to an adjacent hill paid for by the government. Soon after archeologists unearthed the Anahita Temple – and a portion of the summer palace of the Archaemenian Kings dating back 2,000 years. Not only were notions of the serpent put to rest but the village took pride and set large pillars that had been unearthed in the middle of the city center. The Anahita temple put this small village on the map, and it became a tourist destination.

It is painful to watch the mindless business protocol that places short-term financial gains of a small group ahead of the knowledge and collective wealth of our community. The history of this land and its Ancient inhabitants, the Ohlone, should be studied for more reasons then just the historical. How can we possibly make good decisions for future generations when we do not respect or even dare to stand up to the interests of developers and the short-term profit motives that are steamrolling this city.

Having traveled to my grandmother’s city, and witnessing this grand site, I came to understand a pride the citizens of Kangavar shared. The Fourth Street development project, which is now moving forward, will only yield a handful of high-priced boutiques and restaurants for the elite few, while permanently closing the doors to our past and starving future generations of priceless knowledge about the earth on which they walk.

I humbly ask the city council to act sustainably as stewards of these invaluable cultural inheritances under their districts. If we plan to leave any sort of hope for our children we must act like caretakers and not pillagers and destroyers.

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Negeene Mosaed is a single mother of two boys attending Berkeley's public schools. She is a resident of Berkeley, a tax payer, and a physical therapist working in downtown Berkeley where she provides treatment to people of all socioeconomic status.