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8 August 2009
Ancient burial ground gets national designation in California

A site that is widely regarded as an ancient American Indian burial ground at the Bolsa Chica Mesa (California, USA) has received national historic designation, exciting preservationists who say the move grants the area slightly more protection against future development. Federal officials last month determined the 'cogged stone' site at Bolsa Chica as eligible for listing with the National Register of Historic Places. The area was named after the hundreds of carved stone disks - cogged stones - found on the site. The disks were possibly used for sacred rituals.
     The designation is just the latest chapter in a decades-long battle among preservationists, tribal members and developers. In 2008, tensions reignited after an announcement about the unearthing of 174 ancient American Indian remains, half of them found over an 18-month period on a site slated to become a community with more than 300 homes. The land was once shared by the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians and the Gabrieleno-Tongva. The discovery of hundreds of mysterious cogged stones and human bone fragments that are up to 8,500 years old confirmed the decades-long rumors that the Brightwater Hearthside Homes site was an ancient burial ground of international importance, Native American officials have said.
The site would have ultimately been listed with the National Register of Historic Places. However, the land owners opposed the official listing, said National Register of Historic Places historian Paul Lusignan.
     The new historic designation changes some things for the cogged stone site, which is largely in the process of being developed. It deems the site a significant resource and therefore does not allow the city to skip an environmental impact report for development, said Susan Stratton, an archeologist who supervises a team at the California Office of Historic Preservation.
     Patricia Martz, a professor of anthropology and archeology at Cal State Los Angeles who spent about a decade preparing the application for the national designation, said she plans to meet with city planners soon about a re-evaluation. However, Jennifer Villasenor, the city's Planning Department manager, said the city can move forward without the environmental review at this stage in the annexation process and still be in compliance with state standards laid out in the California Environmental Quality Act. However, Stratton said the National Register bears a lot more weight, especially in the realm of public opinion. "It's hard to see whether it will grant more protection than 1983," she said. "It doesn't mean you'll be able to keep if from being destroyed, but in terms of how it's going to play out there in the public? Who knows."

Source: OC Register (6 August 2009)

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