Orange County Register (Jan 26, 1994)
Bolsa Chica remains raise questions
Katie Hickox

ENVIRONMENT: The human bones may be the most ancient found in O.C. They could hold a clue to an archaeological mystery.

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Human remains discovered on a bluff above the Bolsa Chica wetlands could be the oldest ever found in Orange County - and might provide a clue to a prehistoric mystery.

A report on the remains filed with the Orange County coroner's office has set archaeologists, politicians and residents abuzz over prehistoric life near the-wetlands.

Koll Real Estate Group hopes to build 4,884 homes on 1,700 acres near the wetlands between Pacific Coast Highway and Warner Avenue.

A county environmental official said Monday that the discovery of the ancient remains is unlikely to derail the project, but a Huntington Beach councilman said development plans should halt until archaeological questions are answered.

An anthropologist hired by the county coroner estimated that the scraps of skull and bone are 8,000 years old. That would make them the oldest found here, said Constance Cameron, a curator at the California State University, Fullerton, Museum of Anthropology. She said they might help solve the mystery of the "cogged stones," which have been found in digs throughout Orange County.

Cogged stones are fist-sized, whitish-gray rocks with grooves carved around the edges. They look like ancient gears. No one knows what they were used for. More than 400 have been found near the prehistoric human remains discovered by a Koll Co. archaeologist last year.

"As far as Orange County and Southern California is concerned, this is a very, very important site scientifically," Cameron said. "It's quite significant to find human remains that old. Now you can discover what people were eating, you can learn what diseases they had, or even what use they had for the cogged stones."

Larry Myer, executive secretary of the state Native American Historical Commission, said 8,000-year-old finds are unusual, although several hundred have been made statewide.

Remains dating back about 90,000 years found in Kenya and Israel are the oldest in the world. North America is thought to have been populated since about 12,000 years ago.

Aside from the Bolsa Chica bone fragments discovered in October, there have been two major bone finds in Orange County. One is known as Laguna Woman, a 5,000-year-old skull fragment found more than 60 years ago.

The second is human remains discovered in Upper Newport Bay that are 7,000 to 9,000 years old, according to Nancy Desautels, an archaeologist who made the latest find when hired by the Koll Real Estate Group to dig at Bolsa Chica.

Desautels said more study would be required before the Koll skull could be dated accurately. "I think it's safe to say it's one of the oldest," she said.

Also potentially significant is a small hole in the cranium fragment. It might be a rare illustration of prehistoric surgery -- possibly drilled to relieve headaches or sickness.

Desautels hopes to complete a report on all archaeological finds at Bolsa Chica in a year. Opponents of the Koll development this week accused her of trying to hide her discovery from county environmental reviewers. But Myer, the state official in charge of handling artifacts, said the law requires only a report to the coroner, which Desautels made in October.

The archaeologist said bone fragments were first discovered near Warner Avenue last summer, but she believed that they were animal bones until finding the piece of skull in October.

On Monday, Pat Ware, a local archaeological activist, accused Koll Co. of hiding the find from environmental officials to shield the development from controversy.

Huntington Beach will hold a public hearing on environmental reviews at the site Monday. Councilman Ralph Bauer said he believes that a grand jury should investigate the handling of the remains.

"Somebody with subpoena powers has to haul those people in under oath and get them to tell the truth," Bauer said. "I think it's outrageous."

But a county official said the discovery is unlikely to derail the project.

"After all, this is not Stonehenge," said Ron Tippets, Bolsa Chica project manager for the county's Environmental Management Agency. "I'm not led to believe we have to preserve everything as it is on site out there."

PREHISTORIC BOLSA

Archaeologists have been fascinated with the Bolsa Chica wetlands area for nearly three generations. About 2,000 artifacts have been discovered by an archaeological firm hired by the Koll Co.

IN BOLSA MESA

More than 400 cogged stones have been found since the 1920s. The cogged stones are Orange County's great archaeological mystery: No one knows what the round, serrated stones were used for. They are about the size of a fist in diameter and date back to prehistoric time.

As many as 3,000 shell beads, estimated to be about 7,500 years old, have been found over the past two years. The beads were worn on necklaces and are found in at least 10 different shapes and sizes.

Fragments of a human cranium and bones, estimated to be about 8,000 years old by an expert hired by the county coroner. The first bone shards that could be associated with these remains were found last summer.

Source: County Environmental Management Agency Bolsa Chica Environmental Impact Review, Scientific Resource Surveys Inc.

IN HUNTINGTON MESA

Two cogged stones have been found since the 1920s.

Tools that resemble a mortar and pestle, arrowheads, and files that date back to 500 B.C.

At least 12 human burial sites were found in the mid-'70s during a street-widening project on Edwards Street. Those remains are estimated to be at least 2,500 years old.