Nearly 200 sets of human remains found at O.C. construction site
The number is far higher than the
state Indian heritage panel knew and fuels the argument
of activists who opposed the building of homes near the
Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach.
By Tony.Barboza, Los Angeles Times Staff
Writer, FEBRUARY 28, 2008
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
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
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
"They are obliterating our past
by destroying a site of international significance and
letting houses go up," she said.
Hearthside did not return four calls
for comment Wednesday. 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.
"The significance and the potential
for there to be human remains was certainly known when
the project was approved, but [the developer] is not
required to give us a report until they finish unearthing
the remains and reburial," she 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 Juaneño Band of Mission Indians and
the Gabrieleno-Tongva tribe. The Native American Heritage
Commission has designated representatives from both
groups as most likely descendants. Once informed of
remains, they are paid to monitor excavations and to
decide how they should be disposed of.
Joyce Perry, cultural resource director
of one Juaneño group, said that she has monitored
the Bolsa Chica site since the early '90s, and that
although she was aware of the number of human remains
found for several years, it is the tribe's policy not
to make the location of burial sites public out of fear
they will be looted.
"The fact that they have been unearthed
is extremely unfortunate," she said. "However,
Hearthside Homes has conformed to all our requests,
and they will be laid to rest with peace and dignity."
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
"This is an important archaeological
site and one of the state's densest concentrations of
Native American remains," Singleton said.
Word of the new finds came in the form
of a letter sent from Scientific Resource Surveys archaeologist
Nancy Wiley to the developer in November.
But the news came as a surprise to Singleton,
who had requested an update because he was concerned
that the archaeological work had stopped. The archaeologist,
he said, should have notified the coroner when each
set of remains was found, and the coroner should have
Supervising Deputy Coroner Cullen Ellingburgh
said his agency was aware that human remains were being
excavated, but did not expect to be told of each set
because it was an ongoing project.
Martz, the anthropology professor, said
that the purpose of excavating Native American sites
before building on them is to share the findings with
the public and the fact that the number of remains was
not disclosed to the state suggests unnecessary secrecy
by the developer.
"To have it just disregarded and
treated like something that has to be dug up and hidden
away is just sad," she said. "If it was a
Mayan ruin, they never would have been allowed to have