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Ancient Artifact Adopted : California Makes Indians' Stone Bear Official Relic


CYPRESS — With its Orange County discoverers leading the way, a 7,500-year-old, quartz-hard American Indian sculpture of a bear now joins the ranks of reptiles, insects, minerals and fossils as an official symbol of California.

Taking time out from budget woes, Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law this week a bill that makes the Chipped Stone Bear the official prehistoric artifact of California, the first state in the nation to make such a designation.

The consideration of the bill prompted some quips about the need for an official state artifact. And one politician who voted against the bill questioned why the state was wasting its time on such matters while pressing issues such as the drought remain, said Jonathon Ericson, a UC Irvine anthropologist.

But Franz Wisner, a spokesman for Wilson, said the governor hopes that "this will encourage Californians to explore the state's Native American roots."

He added: "This honors the people in California who were here long before we were."

While "white traditions" such as folk and square dances are honored with official state designations, he said, "this is the only state symbol to honor our native inhabitants."

The law means you may find replicas of the 2 1/2-inch bear, discovered by a Cypress College archeology class in Carlsbad in 1985, in state gift shops, museums and elsewhere.

But supporters say the move's chief importance is symbolic. "I think it does a great honor to the Native American community," said Henry Koerper, the Cypress College professor who organized the find. "It's a symbolic way to recognize the contributions of Native Americans past and present to our heritage."

Larry Myers, a Pomo Indian who is executive secretary of the Native American Heritage Commission, a state agency, said the artifact's designation takes a small step toward recognizing the state's cultural roots.

"The current attitude in the state is one of ignorance--people don't know anything about California Indians," he said, even though they are one of the biggest Indian groups now recognized in the United States.

Koerper and some students were digging near Agua Hedionda Lagoon in northern San Diego County when Richard Cerrito, now a graduate student in archeology at UC Riverside, came across the bear about 60 centimeters below ground, the professor said.

Archeologists used carbon-dating tests on surrounding shells--the inorganic, the volcanic rock itself could not be tested--to estimate that the bear is 7,500 to 8,000 years old, Koerper said.

He suggested that the Indian creators of the artifact--with its finely carved head, legs, curved back and tail--considered the bear a spiritual symbol.

"It is probably some sort of religious item," he said. "All over the world where you find bears. . . . Often enough there's a particular reverence that people hold for the bears. They're a powerful animal that became power symbols. They generate some anxiety, particularly grizzlies, and often people treat things that they hold in awe with a special respect."

The state's strong identification with the bear also helped prompt Koerper and colleagues in Orange County to pursue a state designation. The grizzly--now extinct in California--is already the state animal and is represented on the state flag and seal.

"This is basically a fourth use of the bear motif," said Ericson, who worked with Koerper and Paul Apodaca, curator of folk art at Santa Ana's Bowers Museum, in pushing the bill. "It solidifies the connection between the people who selected the bear in the state (as its animal) and the California Indians."

The Prehistoric Artifact Bill (SB 404) was introduced by state Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena) and passed the Senate, 29-1. Moved on the Assembly floor by Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Anaheim), it passed there, 62-4. Wilson signed it Monday.

California Symbols

The Chipped Stone Bear, now California's official prehistoric artifact, joins a list of other official symbols of the Golden State, including its song, insect and dance. Official state symbols must be approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

Bird: California valley quail

Fish: California golden trout

Reptile: California desert tortoise

Motto: Eureka (I have found it)

Nickname: Golden State

Animal: California grizzly bear

Colors: Blue and gold

Dance: West Coast swing

Flower: Golden poppy

Fossil: Saber-toothed cat

Insect: California dog-face butterfly

Marine mammal: California gray whale

Mineral: Native gold

Rock: Serpentine

Song: "I love you, California"

Theater: Pasadena Community Playhouse

State tree: California redwoods ( Sequoia sempervirens & Sequoia gigantea )

Orange County's Unofficial Symbols

County tree: California live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

County bird: Acorn woodpecker

County mineral: Silver

Researched by April Jackson

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Orange County public information office

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