| 3 March 2008
Ancient human remains found at construction site in California
Archaeologists have removed 174 sets of human remains from a controversial housing development under construction in Huntington Beach, bolstering claims that it was a significant prehistoric Native American settlement. Dave Singleton, program analyst for the California Native American Heritage Commission, said 87 sets of remains were removed before Hearthside Homes broke ground on its Brightwater development near the Bolsa Chica wetlands in June 2006 and 87 more since then.
Officials at the commission, which did not learn of the finds until December, said they should have been told as each set of remains was discovered. Mostly bone fragments, the remains are being kept in trailers in Temecula, and the first 87 have been reinterred, Singleton said. The finds also support the belief of community activists who sought to derail the housing project because of its closeness to the wetlands and because they said the area was once part of an 8,500-year-old Native American settlement.
"Village sites and cemeteries of this age are extremely rare," said Patricia Martz, a professor of anthropology at Cal State L.A. who studies California prehistoric coastal cultures. Flossie Horgan, executive director of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, a group opposing development at Bolsa Chica, said Hearthside has tried to cover up the finds by not disclosing them to the public. Had activists known the extent of the remains earlier, she said, they might have been able to persuade the California Coastal Commission to reject the development.
After a 30-year battle over the development in and around the salt marsh, Hearthside won Coastal Commission approval in 2005 to build 350 homes on 68 acres on Bolsa Chica mesa. A business manager at Scientific Resource Surveys, the archaeological firm excavating at the site, would not comment on the remains. "The number of burials seems awfully high," said Teresa Henry of the Coastal Commission, who questioned the amount because there have been "slow and meticulous" excavations at the site going back to the early 1980s.
Also found at the site were at least 400 cogged stones, artifacts that resemble gears and are believed to have been ceremonial objects. The stones are similar to those found in coastal prehistoric sites in Chile, Singleton said. More than 5,000 other artifacts, including scraping tools and mortars and pestles, have been removed from the site, filling 2,000 boxes, he said.
A handful of prehistoric human remains were found at Bolsa Chica mesa starting in the early '90s, according to the Orange County coroner's office, but the total was not made public until this week. The site is claimed by two Native American groups: the Juaneņo Band of Mission Indians and the Gabrieleno-Tongva tribe.
Sources: Orange County Register (26 February 2008), Los Angeles Times (28 February 2008)
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