Native American Skull Found at Malibu
State Native American Heritage
Commission Initiates Process for Handling Find
A human skull unearthed at a construction
site in the Paradise Cove mobile home park has been
officially declared a prehistoric Native American find, and the
wheels have been put in motion for the remains to be handled in
accord with state law.
Workers preparing the foundation for a new
mobile home in the beachside complex discovered the skull
during routine digging Monday at about 4 p.m. and contacted the
Capt. Ed Winter of the Operations
Investigations Bureau of the Los Angeles County
Coroner’s Office said a “skeletal
team,” including a forensics anthropologist, arrived
at the scene a few hours later to study the artifact.
Winter said the discovery was not
surprising because there have been a number of finds of
prehistoric Native American artifacts in the Paradise Cove
The team’s consulting forensic
anthropologist, Elizabeth Miller, a faculty member at
Cal State L.A., said when she made the determination that the
skull was a prehistoric artifact, that action took the matter
out of the Coroner’s Office’s hands.
Miller said her analysis was based on the
age of the remains, first determined visually by “its
brittleness, the morphology of the face’s ethnic
characteristics and the wear on the teeth.”
The anthropologist said the teeth of most
California Native Americans in pre-recorded history
“are worn down to little nubs” because of the
“large amount of grit in their diet.”
Miller’s determination of artifact
status resulted in the skull being referred to the California
Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento, which
did its own analysis of authenticity and, also having
determined the skull to be Native American remains, has
taken over its official disposition.
Larry Myers, the executive secretary
of the Native American Heritage Commission, said that a member
of the Chumash people, having been declared “a most
likely descendent,” has been selected to work with the
property owner where the skull was found.
Myers said the commission has a policy of
not making the name of the descendents public. He said it was
likely that individual has already made contact with the
property owner and the developer of the parcel, but additional
information was not available as The News went to press.
There may be some additional legal issues
in this case concerning how final arrangements for the
skull will be worked out, as the land in the park is owned by
the Kissel Company and leased to mobile home owners.
According to Miller, there are a number of
options for ways to honor human remains of Native American
ancestors. The skull is presently protected in the location
where it was found until disposition has been resolved.
The skull could be buried in the spot it
was found, placed somewhere else on the site and covered by
construction, or it could be moved to a different location for
a ceremonial ritual.
Miller said there probably will be a
request to do further excavation at the site, but she
added, “Most property owners do not allow this.”
Requests for additional study at locations
of other archaeological finds in Malibu have been rebuffed
by owners who are under no legal obligation to allow additional
study on their land.
There were reports that the people
constructing the foundation for a mobile home at the find site
have spent a lengthy period of time on the process and were
cautiously appraising this latest development.
Miller said it is against federal law to
own Native American remains or artifacts, but finds can
legally be covered up, and the insights they might offer
into California’s prehistory could be lost.
She urged people to be careful where they
dig and turn all finds over to the sheriff’s department.
“Each find holds the potential to answer questions about