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Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

Thursday - 4/24/2014, 2:30am  ET

In this April 16, 2014 photo, workers continue with the construction of Rose Lane Development in Larkspur, Calif. Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area and then reburied at an undisclosed location, a newspaper reported. Archaeologists say the burial ground and village site in Larkspur dated back 4,500 years and held a treasure trove of information about Coast Miwok life that should have been preserved for future study. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Lacy Atkins)

LARKSPUR, Calif. (AP) -- Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area and then reburied at an undisclosed location, a newspaper reported.

Archaeologists say the burial ground and village site in Larkspur dated back 4,500 years and held a treasure trove of information about Coast Miwok life that should have been preserved for future study. The 300-foot long site contained 600 human burials, tools, musical instruments, harpoon tips, spears and throwing sticks from a time long before the bow and arrow, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/1mEgxXu).

But The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which made the decision to remove and rebury the remains and artifacts, say the items belonged to their ancestors, and how they are handled is no one's business but the tribe's.

"The philosophy of the tribe in general is that we would like to protect our cultural resources and leave them as is," said Nick Tipon, a longtime member of the tribe's Sacred Sites Protection Committee. "The notion that these cultural artifacts belong to the public is a colonial view."

The development, which was approved by the city in 2010, will cover the site with multimillion-dollar homes. Construction began this month, but was preceded by an excavation conducted by San Francisco's Holman & Associates Archaeological Consultants and overseen by the Graton Rancheria Indians, the Chronicle reported. The federally recognized tribe includes Native Americans of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo descent and was deemed the mostly likely descendent of the remains that were found.

State law requires tribal consultation when Native remains are found or suspected and gives tribes considerable say over the final disposition of the remains and artifacts.

The artifacts at the Larkspur site included stone tools and idols apparently created for trade with other tribes, according to the Chronicle. The site also included a ceremonial condor burial.

"This was a site of considerable archaeological value," said Dwight Simons, an archaeologist who consulted on the excavation. "My estimate of bones and fragments in the entire site was easily over a million, and probably more than that. It was staggering."

Greg Sarris, chairman of the 1,300-member Graton Rancheria tribe, said the tribe traditionally reburies sacred objects because many of them are intended to accompany the person who died.

"Our policy is that those things belong to us, end of story," Sarris said. "Let us worry about our own preservation."

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com


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