Chumash burial site uncovered during Los Osos sewer work

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMarch 23, 2013 

Crews work on installing sewer lines along Los Osos Valley Road in Los Osos in October 2012. In March 2013, crews uncovered a Chumash burial site. The exact location of the discovery is not being disclosed in order to protect the site from looting.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

For the first time, work on the Los Osos sewer project has uncovered a Chumash burial site.

The discovery occurred late last week when workers were digging trenches for sewage collection lines. The exact location of the discovery is not being disclosed in order to protect the site from looting, said Mark Hutchinson, environmental programs manager for the county Public Works Department.

“The site is covered and we are making sure it is protected,” he said. “There may be additional remains than those found in the trench alignment.”

The discovery started a detailed process of deciding the disposition of the remains that includes the Chumash tribe and the Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento.

The commission determined that the most likely descendants of the Chumash whose remains were discovered are the Odom-Tucker family of the Northern Chumash, one of two Chumash groups hired as Native American monitors for the project.

The family said they want the remains reinterred as soon as possible and moved the least possible distance from the original burial location. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council, the other Native American group hired as monitors, also has concerns about how the bones are to be handled. It will be up to state officials to reconcile any disagreements, Hutchinson said.

“It’s obviously a very emotional subject,” he said. “We are confident that all of the legal requirements have been met.”

Los Osos has many archaeological sites so the discovery was not unexpected. The Los Osos Community Services District encountered human remains during preparation work for that agency’s failed attempt to install a sewer in 2005. However, this is the first time remains have been discovered during the county’s project.

The sewer project was designed to avoid as many known burial sites as possible. However, this site could not be avoided because it is in the middle of a roadway, Hutchinson said.

Small pits were dug to determine the exact boundaries of the archaeological area. The trench through that area was dug using shovels rather than the usual heavy earth-moving equipment. The remains were unearthed when workers were 90 percent through the archaeological area.

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