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HISTORIANS STUMBLE IN EFFORT TO EXPLAIN BAY AREA WALLS.

Byline: Pam King Contra Costa Times

Every so often, at least for the last hundred years, someone has stumbled on - or over - the stone wall remnants that traverse the ridge tops of the East Bay, from Berkeley to Milpitas.

``Who built them? Why? When?'' the stumbler asks, certain that these questions have answers. He investigates, studies, researches, interviews.

And then gives up.

``In the absence of hard facts, speculation abounds,'' said Ned MacKay, spokesman for the East Bay Regional Park District. Several of the wall remnants are visible on remote park district lands, in Tilden and Sibley parks and in the Mission Peak Regional Preserve. Monument Peak, a 2,600-foot mountain on the Alameda-Santa Clara county border, boasts the most extensive and best-preserved sections.

The walls range in height to five feet high. They are made of large basalt boulders that weigh up to a ton at the bottom of the walls. Some of the walls are almost buried, some have been partially dismantled; some segments run for miles, some for a few yards.

``The builders were well versed in stone cutting and adept in moving great weights,'' hiker Harold French wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1904. ``That the walls are of antiquity is beyond the shadow of a doubt.

``The building involved the labor of many hands for many months and the walls, disconnected and embodying no system, could serve no purpose of modern man. They were never a fence or boundary. A superior race settled in these hills at some remote period, and made a system of villages and fortifications from the hill tribes.''

As evidence of the walls' advanced age, some sections have been heaved apart by acorns that fell within cracks in the walls, sprouted and became huge, mature trees, then died and decayed.

For every plausible explanation, there is an equally persuasive refutation.

The Ohlone Indians populated the region in the centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, but they did not ordinarily use stone construction.

The Mexican settlers could have built them as property markers or animal enclosures, but the walls are not consistent with known property lines. Furthermore, some descendants of settlers from the Mission era claim the walls were there - already covered with moss and lichen - when their forefathers arrived. One anthropologist posited the theory that Chinese coolies, brought over to build the railroads, might have built them.

Some of the theories have merit but lack proof. In 1904, for example, UC-Berkeley professor John Fryer made a case for the walls as the work of migrant Chinese.

``I have long held the theory that the Chinese, Malays and perhaps other people of the Orient drifted to American long before the Europeans ever heard of the New World,'' Fryer wrote in the Chronicle.

``The walls were probably built by Chinese for protection against the Indians. The Chinese would naturally wall themselves in, as they do in all their towns in China. The fact that the wall is low does not make any difference.''

Seth Simpson of Hayward became interested in the walls in the 1960s, but he never came up with any evidence that would conclusively date them.

``Personally, I think they were built during the Mexican period, but for what reason, I don't know,'' Simpson said. ``It's an interesting mystery. All I can tell you is when we took a helicopter ride over Monument Peak, there were walls all over, in every direction.''

Simpson also recalled a theory that the barriers were built by Portuguese settlers, because they closely resemble the stone walls used to contain sheep and goats in the Pyrenees. They also resemble walls in the Sierra foothills. Transplanted New Englanders have noted that they look like the rock walls of rural Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine.

So who's going to solve the East Bay mystery?

Over the years, amateurs interested in dating the walls have called on UC-Berkeley anthropologists for help but have not been able to generate much interest. At the turn of the 20th century, the university's most distinguished anthropology professor, A.L. Kroeber, dismissed the walls as ``unexplainable.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 10, 1996
Words:683
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