The Los Angeles Times reported that remains of what are believed to be Native Americans have been found at the corner of Arcadia and Spring streets in downtown L.A. at a construction site for a new Mexican cultural center. Construction came to a halt when human remains were found at the site.
The Gabrielino band of Mission Indians of San Gabriel at first believed the remains are from an ancient Indian village, and soon the crews realized they hadn’t dug up a few bones but rather an entire cemetery. The bodies found beneath a half-acre lot of dirt and mud are believed to be from the 1800s. Since last October, bones have been found beneath what will eventually be the outdoor space of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a comprehensive cultural center devoted to, “Mexican-American creative expression, history, and culture,” according to NBC Los Angeles. Slated to open in April, the future is now murky thanks to this incredible discovery.
The archeologists at the site and the chief executive of La Plaza say that the remains are probably from the Campo Santo, or cemetery, that was connected to the Our Lady Queens of Angels, known as the La Placita, a historic Catholic church in downtown Los Angeles.
This cemetery was closed in 1844, and its discovery reveals something of a microcosm of America’s melting pot history, with remains of Native Americans as well as Spanish, Mexican, and Europeans, including their intermarried offspring. This incredible find has led to an incredible amount of voices who have legitimate concerns with the methods and speed of the excavation thus far. La Plaza officials began by reporting the find to Los Angeles Archdiocese officials, and say they were told to proceed with the excavation. “We would turn over the remains to the church and the church would rebury them,” the executive of La Plaza, Miguel Angel Corzo, told the Times. Yet a spokesmen for the archdiocese countered that they were given misleading accounts of what, exactly, they were unearthing. The archdiocese of L.A. say that they been told the extent of the find was very small, only a few little fragments, and are baffled why they continued digging when it became clear how large the discovery actually was.
The Native American community has also voiced concerns, with some questioning the logic behind the entire operation. “They’re desecrating and destroying the cemetery to put in a fountain monument to honor the history and culture of Mexican Americans,” Cindi Alvitre, director of the Ti’at Society, a local Native American group, told the Times. “I don’t get it.”
It’s not just the Native American community who are concerned. Archeologists, as well as and possible descendants from the people buried in the cemetery, have been critical of the haste of the excavation, and have openly questioned whether they should continue. The cultural center and the outdoor space that is now being built are set to open on April 9th.
Corzo stated that he and his staff have been meticulous in their archaeological protocol since his construction team first stumbled upon a piece of an arm, a jaw and a triangle of skull. Corzo told the Times that coroner was called the moment that happened in late October. Corzo also said he contacted the Native American Heritage Commission when construction workers found an artifact that might have significance to their history and culture. “They asked some questions and said, ‘you can proceed,’ ” Corzo said.
The chairman of the anthropology department at Cal State L.A. toured the site and found that, due to the state of deterioration in the bones, they would have to be studied in place as much as possible, and Wendy Teeter, curator of archaeology at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, told the Times that California health code laws with regards to cemeteries have not been followed in the excavation. “They haven’t notified next of kin that they are planning to move the cemetery, where they are taking the remains, what’s the process of how they will be examined. Really basic things.”
As of press time there was still no word on how this would be handled in accordance with the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, which Congress passed in 1990. The only thing that does seem certain is that, for now, the La Plaza de Cultura y Artes is not generating the kind buzz they had hoped for when construction began.