A rash of lootings at ancient Chumash Indian archeological grounds in the Santa Monica Mountains has prompted stepped-up patrols of ancient village sites and burial grounds by state park rangers.
Seven suspected artifact thieves and grave robbers have been arrested in recent weeks--including three who have been caught twice digging up 1,000-year-old items considered irreplaceable, park officials said last week..
The increased surveillance will include the Calabasas site of the former village of Talapop, the focus of a road-paving confrontation between the contemporary Chumash Indians and Los Angeles County.
Reportedly inhabited by Indians between about 900 A. D. and the 1830s, the now-buried village lies in the proposed path of a new main entrance to the 7,000-acre Malibu Creek State Park.
Under pressure from the Indians, work on the road has been suspended to allow state archeologists to excavate the site this week for evidence of human remains. Officials say that, if Indian skeletons are found, the entryway will probably have to be redesigned.
Misdemeanor Charges Planned
Bud Getty, superintendent of Santa Monica Mountains state parklands, said archeological thieves arrested by rangers will face misdemeanor charges. Until now, the thefts have been handled as less serious infractions.
Six of those apprehended have been fined $43 each by a Ventura County Municipal Court, according to state park records. One received a $46 fine from a Los Angeles County Municipal Court, another was fined $160 and two others' cases are still pending, according to state officials.
"People are coming out here equipped with shovels and screens. They're equipped like archeologists," Getty said. "They're not just coming out and saying, 'Oh, look at that,' and picking stuff off the ground."
The outbreak of illegal digging has come since a series of October brush fires denuded parts of the state's 40,000 acres of Santa Monica Mountain parkland. Officials said that removal of dense chaparral by the blaze made the ancient burial sites more accessible and visible to looters.
"Since then, it seems like every time rangers drive by some of these sites they see someone in there with a bag of artifacts--mostly chips from arrows or arrowheads," Getty said.
Burial Site 'Is Finite'
"If someone went to the San Gabriel Mission and started chipping from the wall or dug up a grave at Forest Lawn, everybody would be outraged. If someone cuts down a redwood, we get excited. Redwoods can be regrown, but a Native American site is finite. Once they are gone, there are no more."
John Kelly, a state archeologist heading last week's Calabasas excavation, said there are dozens of Chumash village and burial sites in the local mountains. Although the sites are not generally publicized, they can usually be easily identified by archeology buffs, he said.
"Part of the charge of the state parks is to preserve these sites," Kelly said. "Indian areas around the state parks are being developed over and lost."
Many of the 8,000 members of the present-day Chumash tribe are also on the lookout for Indian grave-robbers, according to a tribal representative who was observing last week's Calabasas archeological survey.
Posh Moyle said the tribe has received reports of artifacts being sold at swap meets. She said archeological thefts are also on the increase at Santa Barbara County Chumash tribe sites.
"If people want to know what we ate or the kind of tools we used, they can go to museums or look it up in books," Moyle said.