Monday, August 22, 2011

More on the UCSD situation

Ever since the remains of three ancient humans were unearthed in 1976 on property owned by the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), the Kumeyaay people have been engaged in a complex battle to have the remains repatriated to them. This would be against the wishes of many University of California (UC) scientists, who want to keep them for further study, a stance that is now opposed by UCSD administrators. But after decades of wrangling, recent actions by UCSD and the scientists who oppose repatriation have brought the remains once again into the spotlight.

The site of UCSD, on the bluffs of La Jolla in north San Diego County overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is some of the world’s prime real estate, but for the 12 bands of the Kumeyaay Nation, it has been part of their ancestral territory for at least 10,000 years, and likely longer. In 1976, three unusual burials (two adults and a child) were exposed by erosion at the university chancellor’s house (also known as University House)—unusual for how well-preserved they were, and how old they are. Archeologists estimate the remains at between 9,000 and 9,600 years old, making them possibly the oldest uncovered human remains in the continental United States. To archeologists like Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, they are the “crown jewels of the peopling of the Americas.” For the Kumeyaay, the “find” was yet another in a long line of desecrations at the site. The house has since been declared unlivable due to a variety of code violations, and recent plans to renovate the house have been hampered, in part because a draft environmental impact report revealed more burials on the site, causing it to be declared a “sanctified cemetery” by the state in 2008.

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