In 1976, a year before he graduated Berkeley with a Ph.D. in anthropology, Allen Pastron turned his love of archeology into a successful business by starting Archeo-Tec, an archeological consulting company that surveys properties as a precursor to any development.
By preserving and documenting cultural resources, Archeo-Tec balances archeological concerns with pressures for new construction, said Pastron. While today there are many archeological survey companies, Archeo-Tec was the first in the Bay Area.
“Ooh, you found some glass,” said Pastron, with a tone of giddiness in his voice as he stood on the edge of the seven-foot-deep hole in the middle of the parking lot of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in West Berkeley.
“It’s not that old,” replied a young archeologist from the muddy pit as she points to the thread on the mouth of a bottle where a top once went. Threaded bottle tops were not manufactured before the 1920s, she explained.
Pastron and his crew are currently in search of remnants of the West Berkeley Shellmound under the lot. The Ohlone people, who inhabited the San Francisco Bay shoreline for thousands of years, built massive mounds of shells and fish and mammal bones. The Ohlone also buried their dead in these mounds. As time passed, these shellmounds grew in some places to more than sixty feet high and hundreds of feet in diameter. So far, Pastron and his team of archeologists have found only a thin layer of shell and soil that he believes was washed onto the site by Strawberry Creek, either from the main body of the West Berkeley Shellmound nearby or from another shellmound.
“The idea of learning different languages and studying other cultures and hanging around foreigners seemed cool to me when I was a kid and it still does,” said Pastron, who speaks several languages, including Tarahumara. He learned this little-known tongue after he moved to Mexico to live in a cave and study the Tarahumara people in the early 1970s for his dissertation on their shamanistic rituals. In the two years there he also learned a lot about himself and American culture.
Every day he would see a middle-aged Tarahumara man sitting in a chair and Pastron would question how it was possible he could sit there and do nothing. “I eventually realized that in America I was always in such a hurry and I was judging this man who was simply relaxing with his thoughts,” said Pastron before adding, “I learned to slow down a little bit.”
While at Berkeley, Pastron worked closely with his Anthropology professors, Glynn Llywelyn Isaac and J. Desmond Clark, both world-renowned for their work on African pre-history.
Frequently Pastron would bring a question to Clark and Isaac during office hours and soon find himself sitting with them for hours discussing a concept. “I realized even then that being in that office talking to the finest minds in archeology was something incredible.” At the time Berkeley’s tuition was $19 per semester. “It was practically free and was without question the best public institution in the country,” said Pastron.
In his last few years in graduate school, he began teaching anthropology classes at Santa Clara University but soon grew tired of his professorial duties. “I didn’t want to work in an office and I like dancing to my own tune,” he said. Starting a business was the logical next step. So when he was asked to consult on a San Francisco public works project that was set to expand near a buried ship under Levi Plaza, he didn’t hesitate to take the job.
Since starting Archeo-Tec, Pastron has hired hundreds of archeologists, many of them graduate students from UC Berkeley.
Kyle Brudvik, who recently started at Archeo-Tec, graduated last year with a Master’s degree in Integrative Biology. “Ever since I was a kid I loved to explore and dig in the dirt,” he said. He studied anthropology and geology as an undergraduate and later specialized in human evolution. Besides getting to turn a shovel and getting his hands dirty, he enjoys the collaboration with his colleagues on the job sites. “I love being part of the effort and trying to make sense of these complicated localities,” said Brudvik.