Petition demands Navy stop removing Indian artifacts from California’s ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’

Archeologist Steve Scwhartz holds a fishhook made of abalone found on San Nicolas Island off the California coast.

Archeologist Steve Scwhartz holds a fishhook made of abalone found on San Nicolas Island off the California coast.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

More than 390 people, many of them archaeologists and Native American leaders, have signed a petition demanding that the Navy suspend its plans to relocate artifacts from San Nicolas Island to a former icehouse at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, Calif.

The artifacts include stone blades, harpoon points and other implements that could help flesh out the real-life story of the woman who inspired the novel “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” one of the 20th century’s most popular novels for young readers and required reading in many California schools.

“It is important that these items and others discovered and curated on the island over the past 25 years remain where they are,” said Patricia Martz, a professor emeritus at Cal State Los Angeles, who posted the petition on the website three days ago.


“For one thing, the artifacts were recovered from a marine environment,” she said, “and the China Lake facility is 250 miles away in the desert and doesn’t have appropriate climate controls.”

“For another, it has always been standard practice to curate artifacts as close to where they were excavated as possible,” she said.

“Beyond all that, every time artifacts are packed up and moved around, things get broken and lost,” she added.

The petition is attached to a letter addressed to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Opponents of the impending move include Wendy Teeter, curator of archeology at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, and Steve Schwartz, a former Navy archaeologist who spent 20 years searching for a cave where the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island may have lived.

In a recent formal response to arguments against the move filed by Teeter, Navy Capt. C.D. Janke said the China Lake facility meets federal standards, as well as regulatory requirements for public accessibility.


“It is a well-insulated former ice house, with a climate control system that maintains stable temperature and humidity,” Janke said.

About 60 miles off the coast, San Nicolas is a lonely Navy base dotted with installations designed to track missiles. It also has more than 540 known archaeological sites, some with evidence that people have lived on the island for more than 8,000 years.

“Given the importance of these particular items to California history and lore, they are too precious to risk the dangers of moving them to the California desert” Martz said in an interview.

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