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LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes Excavation Uncovers Downtown History

By Lauren Mattia
Published: Monday, January 10, 2011, at 06:29PM
El Pueblo Campo Santo Excavation Robert Garcia / The City Project [Flickr]

Excavation for LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes continues despite backlash from Native American activists and some archaeologists.

The excavation for a garden in LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a public cultural center celebrating L.A.’s Mexican American heritage, stirred up controversy last week among archaeologists and Native American activist groups.

While critics like UCLA’s curator of archaeology at UCLA's Fowler Museum Wendy Teeter claim that the excavation does not comply with California health code law on cemeteries, according to a LA Plaza press release, “all professional archaeological and oestological procedures and regulations” are being strictly followed.

Excavation for LA Plaza's garden began in October 2010, and shortly after breaking ground, archaeologists from The Sanberg Group discovered remains from the original cemetery of the neighboring La Placita Church dating from the first half of the 19th century. Records show that the cemetery and the remains within were relocated after its closure in 1844.

“The discovered human remains are in a very fragile state and are being treated carefully and with the respect they deserve,” said Sandy Schneeberger, Registered Professional Archaeologist and President/CEO of The Sanberg Group. “Based on the data recovered to date, the context of the remains appear to be consistent with those found in a historic Catholic church cemetery.”

After the remains are excavated, they are stored securely in an offsite location where they are recorded and analyzed. Afterwards, they are given to the Archdiocese for reburial.

It’s not all about the bones, however. Archaeologists have dug up artifacts like historic period bottles, porcelain dishes, and other items dating back to the 19th century, uncovering some of Downtown’s hidden history.

According to LA Plaza, the Sanberg Group "will publish a report on their findings, which will be made available by LA Plaza to the scientific community and other interested parties."

LA Plaza is set to open its doors in April, and will house a public walkway connecting Main and Spring streets and an outdoor garden with a memorial olive grove honoring those buried in the cemetary, which was the resting place for Native Americans, Spanish, Mexican, and European settlers.

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