Dwelling On Sacred Ground

June 1, 2009

Author: Yelena Akopian

Source: The Guardian


Mansions built atop ancient American-Indian burial grounds are the stuff of legends. But just off campus on Regents Road, that stereotype is more fact than fiction.

Sitting literally on top of an ancient American-Indian cemetery — UCSD’s records show 29 human remains have been removed from the chancellor’s historic residence over the past 80 years — the University House was declared unlivable in 2004 due to hazards and structural problems.

The approximately 10,000-year-old bones of the two adults were dug up from the property in 1976 by Cal State Northridge archeology students. The two skeletons are frozen in a unique arrangement, with a young man buried at the feet of an older woman. They are among the oldest skeletal remains yet discovered in the Western Hemisphere, and form the only “double burial” of their kind in the Americas.

The Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriations Committee (KCRC), a group of federally recognized San Diego tribes, submitted a request to the university in 2006 asking for the remains to be repatriated ­ — or returned — to the Kumeyaay Indians.

The KCRC asserted that their ancestors have been here since “time immemorable,” and said they intend to rebury the remains if they are returned.

The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), federal legislation passed in 1990, details the official guidelines by which human remains can be identified and returned to American-Indian tribes that request them.

The NAGPRA states that remains must be expeditiously returned when a tribe can prove cultural affiliation. This occurs when a “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.”