continued At a nearby house on Roseland, a woman wanted to put in a swimming pool. Lucas red-flagged this project in a letter to the City. She learns of these things, she says, because La Jolla residents “know everything that’s going on,” in particular, any construction that may alter property values and views. The City ignored her letter, she says. Later, Lucas arrived at the site to find three inhumations out of the ground. (At such moments, Lucas says a prayer: “For these old souls, I say, ‘Dear God, forgive us. We’re in a different society.’ ”) Worst, the dirt was dumped as fill on Mount Soledad. She’s been trying to get that dirt returned, without luck.
The Remains Game
According to UCSD’s draft environmental impact report on the University House project, the remains of 29 people have been found and removed from the site in the last 80 years. (It’s likely that other bones and cultural resources were taken by grave robbers who left no receipt.) Archaeologist Malcolm Rogers found 11 burials in 1929 and 1936; 6 burials were discovered in 1947 and 1948; 2 in 1949 by a Scripps ichthyologist; another in 1950 from under a patio area; and 6 more in 1956.
In 1976, during an excavation by faculty and students from Cal State Northridge, a trove of artifacts was unearthed: stone tools, metates, worked bone, worked shell, and more. One of the dig’s three directors, Gail Kennedy, also uncovered two full skeletons with skulls cracked but intact and a child, all of which, UCSD records show, “were eroding from the cliff face.” This find became known as the “double burial” because of the unique configuration of the adults: a young man was laid beside an older woman whose feet were on his head; two fingers of his hand were cut off and put into his mouth. Kennedy, who today will not speculate on the meaning, says that no one, before or since, has ever seen such an arrangement.
UCSD records reveal that the Museum of Man has had 17 of the 29 burials in its possession. Courtney Coyle has seen a report from the 1950s written by George F. Carter of the museum, who noted that “there were other burials removed by Carr Tuthill, curator of the Museum of Man, and James Moriarty, draftsman at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.” Officials at Scripps have kept “archaeological artifacts” for years in a warehouse. In 2000, Scripps sent 35 boxes of artifacts to the San Diego Archaeological Center, near the Wild Animal Park. Coyle describes the boxes as “infested with pests, in extremely poor condition, documentation was poor or absent, and items were missing that had been catalogued (including human bones).”
The main issue here for the Kumeyaay is that they want those 29 skeletons — or any bones removed from their burial grounds in the county — returned to them for reburial.
Kumeyaay spokeswoman Bernice Paipa says their biggest headache is that “the majority of the 29 remains went into private hands and have never been accounted for.” Kennedy says that she studied the remains from the double burial for one year, then sent them back to UCSD. It appears those bodies went to the Museum of Man, where they, along with other burials, were stored for decades. (The museum won’t comment.)
The Museum of Man agreed to “hold the 1976 burials,” according to UCSD records. The burials eventually were sent from the museum, perhaps as late as 2000, to the Smithsonian Institution on a “study loan.” Last October, almost 30 years after their discovery, the remains Kennedy found were sent by the Smithsonian to the San Diego Archaeological Center. The center acts as a curator for Native American resources, overseeing six repatriations since opening in 1998. Stored in curation vaults, the 1976 remains are kept, says executive director Cindy Stankowski, in “inert archival-quality containers, in an environmentally controlled environment. They’re not exposed to light, heat, or humidity.”
Clint Linton, a Kumeyaay archaeologist and monitor (Santa Ysabel Band), inventoried the bones with UCSD’s Margaret Schoeninger. He said that the remains were encased in bubble wrap. When they removed them, “Fragments fell all over the floor, some into powder and dust.” In addition, most of the bones were shellacked, rendering them “unusable for research.” Linton says he was appalled that the Smithsonian had sent, and maybe kept, the bones in “that condition. It was flat-out wrong.”
Dr. Arion Mayes is a Cherokee from Oklahoma who teaches anthropology and osteology at San Diego State University. She tells me that the Kumeyaay have asked her to do a “noninvasive analysis” of the 1976 remains. She will handle the bones and take measurements, but her exam will “not [be] destructive to bone like chemical analysis is.” Previously, the tribe has employed Mayes to look at remains, evidently trusting her spiritual sensitivity for the living and the dead. She will not do DNA testing, because the test destroys tissue, which the Kumeyaay oppose.
With her analysis, Mayes will see whether or not the 1976 remains show ancestral links to present-day Kumeyaay. Establishing that relationship is key to repatriation. Depending on the condition of the bones, such a determination can be very difficult if not impossible.
For the Kumeyaay and for all Native Americans, the right to repatriate the remains of ancestors was made law in 1990 with the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). This act safeguards Indian gravesites from disruption and creates a process by which Indian exhumations can be identified and returned to the tribes. The procedure couples Indian testimony and archaeological evidence to establish a tribe’s “cultural affiliation” to the remains. Cultural affiliation is established, according to the NAGPRA website, “when the preponderance of the evidence — based on geographical, kinship, biological, archeological, linguistic, folklore, oral tradition, historical evidence, or other information or expert opinion — reasonably leads to such a conclusion.” Once cultural affiliation between a group and a collection of bones or artifacts is set, the tribe has a right to those resources, whenever they were dug up and no matter how old they are.