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Chumash Indian Remains Reburied

March 28, 2000|JOSH KARP

Ancient Chumash Indian remains that were found at the Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant have been reburied, Thousand Oaks city officials said Monday.

A city archeologist discovered shell fragments, an arrowhead and two bone fragments while digging 300 feet away from the south fork of the Arroyo Conejo Creek on Feb. 11, said Dean Morales, project manager of the expansion.

Gil Unzueta, 42, a Chumash Indian and Thousand Oaks resident, performed reburial ceremonies two weeks ago.

"It's painful, but the idea is to get them back to their resting place and let them continue their journey hopefully without any more disturbance," Unzueta said.

City officials say they had no knowledge of the burials at that site because the area was not registered with the Native American Heritage Commission, which keeps track of archeological sites.

When the remains were discovered, the city contacted the Ventura County coroner's office, which said it initially thought the bones were nonhuman. But because of the natural soil in which they were found and the shells and arrowhead found near them, city archeologist Mary Maki had an outside bone expert review them, said senior city planner Greg Smith. The expert concluded that the fragments were human.

"When you find these kinds of things in that context, you have to infer that this is Chumash territory and these are Chumash remains," he said.

Upon determining the remains were likely Chumash, the city then hired Compass Rose, a Van Nuys-based archeology firm, to do more monitoring around the area. It found more bones in the area between March 1 and March 10, Morales said.

The discoveries have frustrated some local Chumash, who held two reburial ceremonies for the remains. Unzueta, an archeological field technician with Compass Rose, said the remains were from two bodies, circa 1100 to 1700.

Unzueta, who said he's had to rebury other Chumash remains in and around the county in the past that were uncovered during construction work, said the city should have investigated the land before starting work. Smith, though, says the land is not a registered archeological site and the city had no way of knowing that the remains were there. In addition, Smith says the Janss Corp. in 1959 already disturbed the burial ground when it was building the waste-water treatment plant.

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