Archeological Discoveries Delay Fourth Street Subway Construction

If you live, work, commute or simply pass by Fourth Street between Market and Bryant, you’ve probably noticed that the SFMTA’s Central Subway Construction has resumed. Holes in the street have been reopened, traffic diverted and crosswalks temporarily closed as digging has taken over entire lanes of traffic.

A few months ago, we announced that the Subway Project was giving Fourth Street a break and moving their machinery up to Union Square to relocate some utilities. As it turned out, Fourth Street was halted for a couple of months; not because they were done as projected, but because there were some archeological discoveries that required a different approach to the dig.


Sifting through middens...

Last week, I attended my first Community¬†Advisory Group meeting as a member of the Central Subway CAG. They shared their struggles with what they consider a “Native American Landfill” that was recently discovered along Fourth Street.

According to the Official Central Subway Blog:

Recently, during the course of excavating for utility relocation for the Moscone Station, workers came across deposits of shells in the trenches located on Fourth Street between Howard and Folsom streets. Upon discovering these deposits, Mike Stoyka, an archaeologist assigned to watch over the trenching, declared that these could be possible middens and needed to be investigated further. A midden, by definition is a refuse heap and is an indicator to archaeologists that there were inhabitants that had lived in an area.

Such a discovery has apparent historical implications that require the project to change its approach to digging. For starters, all of their large machinery had to be moved out, in place of hand-digging which inherently slows the relocation process.

Whenever anything is discovered (ie. shells, midden samples, bone fragments, etc.), it’s removed from the hole, placed in a bag and shipped up to a research facility in Sonoma where it’s cleaned, sifted through and documented. So far, nothing too exciting has been discovered. Aside from a couple animal bone fragments, clam shells and small, manmade tools, there’s been no discoveries that suggest anything other than a Native American garbage dump.

While it’s pretty cool to think about Natives who lived here long before this area was called San Francisco, it’s unfortunate that such a discovery leads to frustration both from the project workers and the neighborhood combined.¬†

The good news is that the Utility Relocation Portion of the Central Subway Project along 4th Street is approximately 80% completed. While they have a tentative completion date of April 6, 2011 (they’re planning to take some time off for the Holidays), SFMTA Central Subway Program Manager, John Funghi told us that they hope to be finished well before the proposed date.


For much more information about the Central Subway Project, check out their official website here. If you would like to find out a specific question about the project, feel free to submit it to LiveSOMA, and we will forward your correspondence to the powers that be.

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