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Chumash Cemetery Discovery Prompts Concern of Officials

August 10, 1986|MARC IGLER | Times Staff Writer

The discovery of what may be an ancient Indian cemetery in the middle of a dry flood control channel near Point Mugu State Park has prompted a meeting to be held this week of archeologists, Ventura County officials and Chumash Indian representatives to decide how to proceed.

The discovery, made last week by an archeological team from California State University, Northridge, turned up 16 graves "and that could be just the tip of the iceberg," said Gerald Nowak, deputy director of public works for Ventura County, which hired the CSUN team.

Native Americans of Chumash ancestry typically insist that tribal human remains be left where they are found, although there is no state law requiring that, Nowak said Saturday.

The CSUN team has been digging in Caleguas Creek, a natural flood- control channel that is currently dry, for more than two weeks to determine the significance of a Chumash village near Mugu Lagoon, Nowak said.

The Chumash were one of the largest tribes in California, and many of their ancient villages have been found in an area ranging from San Luis Obispo to Malibu Canyon on the Pacific Coast and across the Coast Range to the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley.

Two other ancient Chumash villages are in the same area, which has been the site of looting and erosion in recent years, said Roberta Greenwood, whose archeological firm conducted a similar dig of another village in the area last year for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The village where the graves were found, known by its state designation as "CA VEN 110," was inhabited for about 1,000 years until the 1800s, Nowak said. Along with the human bones, many pieces of pottery, beads and other artifacts have been found at the site.

None of the human remains have been removed and the Ventura County coroner's office is investigating to determine the age of the bones and to confirm that they are from the Chumash tribe and not of more recent origin, a coroner's spokesman said.

Graves Found in Past

Indian graves have been discovered in the area in the past, but a cemetery as large as this one has never been found at the location, said Charlie Cooke of Thousand Oaks, the hereditary chief of the southern Chumash.

Cooke said that, according to Chumash tradition, six or more graves at one location is considered a cemetery that should be left untouched. Cooke suggested that flood control officials reroute the channel to divert water from the cemetery.

Nowak said that is not feasible, judging from the amount of water the channel carries during the rainy season from the eastern part of the county.

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