For centuries, thousands of indigenous Americans roamed...
For centuries, thousands of indigenous Americans roamed the Los Angeles Basin, living in villages, fishing and gardening before Spanish conquerors and disease virtually wiped them out.
Today, parks, businesses and schools sit atop the burial grounds and encampments of these societies. The most populous were the Gabrielino--actually several tribes throughout the region, thrown together and named by the Spanish--and the Chumash, who lived mostly in coastal areas.
Although archeologists believe that hundreds of sites remain to be discovered, hundreds have been found. By law, some are kept secret to protect them from looters.
The artifacts found at the sites have been able to tell a more complete story of the cultures of the people who lived there. A sampling:
Lost Village of Encino
* Los Encinos State Historic Park, 16756 Moorpark St., Encino
A large settlement is described in the 1769 diary of Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi, a member of the Gaspar de Portola scouting group. Crespi wrote about visiting a village with a spring-fed pool, in the area that is now the state park.
In 1984, across the street from the park, more than 2 million artifacts--from stone tools to arrowheads and beads--were accidentally unearthed by a construction crew, along with remains of about 20 inhabitants of a 3,000-year-old Gabrielino village.
An archeologist catalogued the artifacts, and some will be delivered to two mission museums; others are destined for the state-run museum in the park near the site.
The museum is closed because of earthquake damage but park rangers give free tours of the grounds from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Cal State Long Beach
* 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach
Archeologists theorize that the Gabrielino village of Puvungna moved over the years, setting up camp at various sites on the hill now occupied by Cal State Long Beach. As the villagers’ huts of woven reeds over sapling frames wore out, they built new ones nearby.
Puvungna was the birthplace of a deity called Chunquichnish, the Gabrielinos’ lawgiver and god, who was sometimes venerated in ceremonies using a hallucinogenic concoction of jimson weed.
In 1972, workers digging a water trench uncovered a burial site that led to the discovery of Puvungna. It took the university six years to rebury the remains.
Puvungna is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but when officials drew up plans to develop a 22-acre strip of land on the western edge of the campus, they apparently made no mention of its historical status. A court halted construction, and the university is awaiting a decision on its appeal of the stalled expansion plans.
Malibu Creek State Park
* 1925 Las Virgenes Rd., Calabasas
In the northeast corner of the park sat the Chumash village of Talepop. The village existed roughly from the year 1000 to the early 1800s.
Talepop sat between territories thought to have been inhabited by the Chumash and Gabrielinos. Although tribe members often intermarried, the dead usually were buried according to their own tribal customs.
In 1987, the remains of what are thought to be a Gabrielino woman and child were unearthed by a construction worker digging a sewer trench. The two bodies had been cremated in the pit where they were buried with manzanita berries, apparently a food offering.
Entrance to the park and a small museum at the visitors center is on Las Virgenes Road just south of Mulholland Highway. The park is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and the visitors center is open on weekends and holidays only.
For 5,000 years--long before Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon portrayed Malibu as the world’s premier surfing colony--this area was the home of the Chumash. On Oct. 10, 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first Spanish explorer of Alta California, stopped at a village on the site of what is now Malibu Lagoon State Beach. He stayed for three days, replenishing his supplies. The villagers rode into the surf to greet Cabrillo’s two ships with their swift red-planked canoes, which so impressed the conquistador that he named the village Pueblo de las Canoas.
The Chumash, however, called their lagoon village Humaliwu, meaning “the surf sounds loud.” After Cabrillo departed, Humaliwu continued its peaceful existence for more than 200 years until the missionaries came.
Nearby, at Cypress Cove, not far from the homes of Mel Gibson, Emilio Estevez and other Hollywood notables, the remains of six Chumash were unearthed in 1991 during construction of three homes. The remains were apparently reburied by the developer in cardboard boxes and plastic bags, but not in accordance with Chumash tradition or state regulations, which require crews to stop work and notify the county coroner when remains are discovered, and reburial of the remains according to tribal ritual. The developer later reported to the state that he reburied the remains properly.
Farther north, at a Point Dume trailer park project, a number of remains were uncovered in April, 1969.
University High School
* West Los Angeles
Explorer Portola camped at the village on the site known as Kurovongna, meaning “a place in the sun,” on Aug. 4, 1769, traveling the route that became known as El Camino Real; the missionary Padre Junipero Serra is also believed to have said Mass here.
Construction of University High School in 1925 unearthed evidence of the village. In 1975, a science teacher and students from the school dug up more artifacts and some bones from what archeologists now believe is an Indian burial site. The springs still flow at the school.
Centuries ago, the Arroyo Seco was known by the Gabrielinos as Hahamongna, meaning “fruitful valley, flowing waters.” In 1938, when Pasadena city workers began digging in the Arroyo Seco to build the Sheldon Reservoir, remains of 53 ancient people were found.