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Discovery of Bones Stirs Furor Over Koll Project

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ancient human remains have been found at a development site on the Bolsa Chica mesa, adding to the furor over the controversial housing project.

Skeletal fragments were unearthed last week during grading at a 6-acre site where homes are planned on a bluff overlooking the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

Activists monitoring the project say they are concerned that an entire burial ground may have been destroyed.

“This is a big deal,” said Juana Mueller of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, which is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop bulldozing at the site.

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The bones, uncovered Aug. 4 by a scraper blade, could be as old as 8,000 years, she said: “That’s way before the pyramids. That’s real prehistory.”

Hearthside Homes, formerly Koll Real Estate Group, plans to build 16 houses on the site, which is near Los Patos and Bolsa Chica avenues in Huntington Beach.

Officials at the company did not return calls seeking comment.

Judy Myers Suchey, the consulting forensic anthropologist who viewed the find last week, prepared a report for the Orange County coroner’s office stating that the remains--cranial bone fragments and a tooth--are prehistoric.

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“It’s quite possible,” she said Tuesday, that a burial ground has been destroyed by the grading.

But Lisa Woodward, a staff archeologist for the firm that has been monitoring the construction site for the builder, said she does not think that is the case.

News of the discovery came on the eve of a hearing scheduled this afternoon in Orange County Superior Court on the land trust’s request to stop the bulldozing, which also has drawn the ire of environmentalists.

The grading, though, is already completed, several officials said.

Further complicating the issue are conflicting accounts of who has the bones.

David Belardes, chairman of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, said the remains have been turned over to him for reburial.

“We already have a designated reburial area on site,” he said.

“That’s what I do--I take care of the ancestors’ remains. It’s important because the ancestors need to be left alone and laid to rest. When we have a development like this, we try to put them in a place where they’ll never be disturbed again.”

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But archeologist Woodward of Scientific Resource Surveys, which is monitoring the site, said she has the remains under lock and key.

She said she saw the bone fragments in the company’s possession Tuesday at the site.

She and another monitor have watched all the grading activity, she said, and no other human remains have been unearthed.

Patricia Martz, an archeologist and professor of anthropology at Cal State Los Angeles, said Tuesday she feels sick about the grading at the site, which is adjacent to where a giant prehistoric village once stood.

She has tracked the housing development closely and had pushed Huntington Beach officials to require more detailed testing before the bulldozing began.

When she heard about the human remains found last week, she said, she feared that an invaluable site had been destroyed.

“It’s possible there could just be an isolated burial,” she said, “or there could have been a whole burial ground.

“There’s a range of possibilities. You just can’t see under the ground to know, and now that it’s been destroyed, that means we’ll never know what was there.”

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