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Cemetery found under L.A. construction site

January 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A cemetery holding the remains of some L.A.'s earliest settlers was discovered at a construction site in downtown L.A.The site is at Main Street and Republic, near Olvera Street. It is now the subject of some controversy.

Construction crews building the Las Plaza de Culturas y Artes near Olvera Street dug up the centuries-old cemetery shortly after breaking ground last year. The 30-foot section next to the historic Our Lady Queen of Angels was the site of the church's cemetery in the early 1800s, but was thought to have been relocated.

"We knew that the cemetery had been exhumed in 1844. There was the possibility that we would find some remains there," said Miguel Angel Corzo, chief executive of La Plaza.

Corzo says so far a few dozen bodies have been unearthed. There have been concerns raised by some in the Native American community over possible descendents buried in the cemetery, but Corzo says so far nothing has turned up indicating it's a Native American burial ground.

"We have sifted over 16 tons of material, and that's a lot of soil to be sieved, and have found really no evidence of anything, except of the types of things that are associated with Catholic burials," said Corzo.

Corzo says La Plaza has been in contact with the California Native American Heritage Commission, as well as the Catholic Archdioceses. According to Corzo, all have given their OK to continue with construction.

Since the first bones where discovered in October, construction crews have stopped working in that area altogether so that archaeologists could carefully remove all of the remains.

"We are confident that we are doing everything that is according to respect and moral and ethical values, as well as the scientific research that is going on," said Corzo.

Once excavation is complete, the remains, which are being kept off-site, will be turned over to the Catholic Church for proper burial. At La Plaza, a memorial garden will mark the spot where some of L.A.'s early settlers were first laid to rest.