Potter's Field remains, artifacts to be put on display

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Osteologists, or bone experts, and archeologists have been examining the remains of 631 people since some coffins were unearthed last year behind the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said Santa Clara County spokeswoman Joy Alexiou.

A building contractor's crew discovered the so-called Potter's Field in February 2012 while doing grading work for the county hospital's Services Building on undeveloped land off of Ginger Lane between Clover and Middle drives, Alexiou said.

"They ran into some coffins and then kind of started digging and found about 15 and then they said 'we have something here and we need to have this looked at,'" Alexiou said.

The individual, unmarked graves contained the bodies of people buried between 1875 and 1935 who were either unidentified, unclaimed by family members or could not afford funeral expenses, Alexiou said.

Most of the remains were inside redwood coffins but others were buried without clothing and wrapped in some kind of material, Alexiou said.

Santa Clara County's first government hospital opened next to the Potter's Field in 1876, so it is likely many of the people had died there, Alexiou said.

The osteologists were hired to study the skeletal remains for evidence of disease and bone formation so "they can determine the age and sex of the deceased," Alexiou said.

"A lot of the bones were of men who died in their 20s to 60s," she said.

Archeologists have been going through the historic artifacts recovered from the bodies that included spectacles, some clothing and jewelry, Alexiou said.

None of the bodies could be identified, she said.

Local knowledge of the cemetery, which had no signs or tombstones, waned over the years after it closed in 1935.

The graveyard was marked on a county map dated from 1932 but a revised map drawn in 1958 did not show it and in 1966 the county turned most of the site into an employee parking lot.

The 631 people buried there is substantial but not that many considering the cemetery operated for 60 years, Alexiou said.

Remains and artifacts from the excavation will be on display from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Ginger Lane in the rear of medical center's campus at 751 S. Bascom Ave.

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