‘Lost Village’ Remains : Indians Move Bones to Secret Park Grave

Times Staff Writer

The Gabrielino tribe has reburied the bones of about a dozen Indians, found during excavation of the “Lost Village of Encino,” in a secret grave in the state park across from the building site on Ventura Boulevard where the village was discovered.

The quiet reburial last month came to light this week as state officials and a land development firm tried to decide who will pay the multimillion-dollar bill for preserving and housing the Indian artifacts found on the building site. The scientist who supervised the dig said the almost 2 million artifacts were the the most ever found at one site in California.

A small group of Indians gathered at Los Encinos State Historical Park early in the morning of April 15 and reburied the bones, which they believe to be those of their ancestors who died hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago.


Protests by Chumash

The reburial was confirmed by park officials, a spokesman for the tribe and an archeologist who accompanied the group.

Under state law, the Gabrielinos were responsible for the disposition of the bones. The state Native American Heritage Commission designated the Gabrielinos as the probable descendants of the Indians who lived in the village--drawing protests from some members of the Chumash tribe, who claimed, unsuccessfully, that the population of the Lost Village included some of their ancestors.

The Gabrielinos had indicated throughout the excavation work that they wanted all human remains reburied as close to the original site as possible, in accordance with religious beliefs, and that the five-acre park across the street would be the logical choice. The tribe believes that movement of buried remains disturbs the spirits of the dead and that the greater the distance the remains are moved, the greater the disturbance.

The five-acre park across the street from the construction site includes a pond fed by a warm spring that may have attracted Indians to settle there, and some of the oldest buildings in the San Fernando Valley--a 136-year-old adobe building and a 113-year-old house.

The reburial took place about 7 a.m. on a Monday, when the park ordinarily would be closed. Bud Getty, Santa Monica Mountains District superintendent for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, said he opened the park to admit about a half dozen Indians.

They were accompanied by Nancy Whitney-Desautels, the archeologist in charge of the excavation, some other researchers and a park maintenance supervisor to make sure the site chosen “didn’t hit any water or electric lines,” Getty said.


“Then we all left,” he said. “Only the Indians were allowed to remain.”

The department knows where the bones were reburied but has promised the Indians that officials will not reveal the site, he said.

The department also wants the location kept secret for its own reasons, to discourage the curious from trying to locate the skeletal remains and items found with the remains, which also were reburied, he said.

Michael Barthelemy, attorney for the tribe and nephew of tribal chief Art Morales, said members of the tribe are unhappy the reburial had become known. “This is a very private matter to us and the tribe wants as little known about it as possible,” he said.

He said the Indians felt that the ancient village probably included the park site, so the bones were being returned to essentially the same place they had been found.

“The important thing is that the human remains and the burial goods associated with them have been reinterred. That was of great concern to us.”

Whitney-Desautels said she was bound by a pledge to the Indians not to discuss the reburial, but confirmed that it took place.

The Lost Village, was rediscovered during excavation for the foundation of an office building on the northeastern corner of Balboa and Ventura boulevards.

Described by Priest

The extensive archeological dig unearthed the remains of a village dating back to about 1000 BC or earlier that archeologists said was the village encountered by the first white men to reach the Valley, in the expedition of Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola.

The village and its spring-fed pond were described in the diary of a priest who accompanied Portola, Father Juan Crespi, but later researchers could not find the “lost” site.

Whitney-Desautels told members of a state legislative committee hearing in Sacramento Monday that the number of artifacts unearthed on the site was more than had ever been found at a single archeological site in the state.

The quantity, and the need for expensive preservation work, has created a financial problem touching both the state and the Encino Plaza Partnership, which is constructing the office building.

Large Collection Costly

Under state law, the development company, as owner of the land, is the legal owner of the artifacts, according to a spokesman for the state Native American Heritage Commission.

The company wants to donate the artifacts to the state Department of Parks and Recreation, but accepting them would be expensive, department spokesman Larry Paynter said. The department would like to have a sampling of items to exhibit to the public but does not feel it should have responsibility for large collections suited to university-level research, he said.

“The finds include 7,000 arrowheads and 50,000 beads,” he said. “Imagine trying to exhibit 7,000 arrowheads. It would be a vastly bigger undertaking than anything the department has ever handled before.”

State Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) introduced a bill to appropriate $975,000 for the Parks and Recreation Department so the state could afford to accept the donation and pay for preservation work that is needed immediately.

$11 Million Sought

The bill, co-authored by five other Valley area lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, was approved 6-0 by the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee this week and sent to the Appropriations Committee.

Later, Robbins and other Valley legislators said, they will try to obtain $11 million in state funds for construction of an Indian history museum just west of the Los Encinos park so that all the artifacts could remain near where they were found.

Whitney-Desautels, who has the artifacts at her Huntington Beach laboratory and is directing the preservation work, said that her firm has already spent $250,000 of its own money on the project.

Many of the artifacts were made of wood, shell or bone, and then were soaked with water while underground for centuries, she said. Unless chemically treated, they disintegrate as they dry out.

Cost to Builders: $2 Million

Preservation work is costing about $40,000 a month, she said, and the laboratory cannot count on any more payments from the legal owners of the items, the owner of the land.

“It is our feeling that we should not have to bear this cost,” said Joel Shine, one of the construction partners.

The discovery of the village and the archeological work that followed has already cost the builders about $2 million, Shine said, ballooning from an original estimate of $20,000.

Although much of the archeological work was mandated by state law, the builders went beyond what was required of them, according to both the Gabrielinos and the Native American Heritage Commission. The commission has praised the builders for outstanding “cooperation and understanding.”