SAN GABRIEL - California's industrial revolution has its roots in a small grist mill built by an ex-pirate on a 40-acre farm at the San Gabriel Mission, archaeologists said.

Archaeologists working with the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority have a chance to uncover more information about the story of Chapman's Mill and other important mission and Native American artifacts buried just across the street from today's mission building.

The dig began in December and will continue through mid-March, officials said. Artifacts found so far include a brass religious medallion, a Spanish coin from 1816, tiles, pottery, beads and animal bones.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity for us to delve into the history of San Gabriel and the San Gabriel Valley as a whole," said John Dietler, the lead archaeologist. "Right beneath us are the very roots of Los Angeles."

The mill was finished in 1823 and was built by Boston native Joseph Chapman. He became involved with pirates and was eventually captured by the Spanish and employed as a builder for the California Mission system.

Chapman's Mill was connected by a series of ditches dug by Native American hands that extended to natural springs in the foothills.

Mike Hart, who has an exhibit at the Huntington Library about the mission's water system, said archaeologists excavated the mill site in 1934 but not to its full potential. In 1941, he said, all the debris from the mill was dispersed from the site when a new housing development was built nearby.

"The mill got destroyed when the whole world was distracted by World War II," Hart said. "This will be a much more thorough archaeological dig (than was done before)."

For Dietler, one of the most exciting finds on the dig so far is a 40-foot-by-20-foot adobe structure built in the 1890s. The building does not appear on any mission maps and has only been in one 1856 sketch of the property, Dietler said.

In the center of the structure, which archaeologists believe could have been a work building of some kind, Dietler said excavators discovered a large trash pit that contained many animal bones, glass and pottery fragments, and part of a dog skeleton.

Dietler said the animal and food remains in the trash pit can tell about how the community's eating habits and trading changed over time.

"We've found some unexpected finds," Dietler said. "The food remains are our greatest window into the economy of the community that was here."

The dig offers the opportunity for new information about the region's both Spanish and Native American history, which are closely intertwined.

"It is important for us because it opens doors for us," said Ernie Tautemes, Salas, the spiritual leader and Chief of the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians. "Our tribe's history has been lost for some time and they are finding many things here that give us the history again."

Dietler said the current dig site is only a portion of the planned excavation. He said SWCA will also expand further east along the train tracks to the site of the San Gabriel depot for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Archaeologists and Native American groups will also continue monitor the ACE Construction Authority as it digs its 30 foot trench.

Dietler says he hopes to write a book on the group's findings to teach the public about the Native American and Spanish mission history the site brings to the surface.

The dig precedes the construction authority's San Gabriel Trench project, which will lower the railroad tracks into a 30-foot ditch to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow and safety.

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SAN GABRIEL - A six-inch foot bone fragment found at the archeological dig site near the San Gabriel Mission has more significance than meets the eye, Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians leaders said.

The bone, a human foot bone, found at the site of the Alameda Corridor East San Gabriel Trench project, is one of the main reasons the state requires a Native American monitor for the dig site, lead archeologist John Dietler said.

Though the coroner said the bone fragment could not be confirmed as Native American, Dietler said the find is most likely connected to and has spiritual significance for the Gabrieleno people.

"Human remains need to be buried," said Anthony Morales, one of the dig's Native American monitors. "Anything sacred that is found needs to be buried."

Project leaders chose Morales and his family from a list provided by the Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento before the project began, Alameda Corridor-East (ACE) Construction Authority spokesman Paul Hubler said. ACE is leading the project, and Morales is contracted with SWCA Environmental Consultants, the dig's archeologists.

Morales said having a presence at the dig is important for preserving history, especially because many builders often destroyed important artifacts before monitors became a requirement.

"For me it's important because this is my hometown, this is my community, these are my people," he said. "It's important for me to be there to monitor it so that things that happened in the past won't happen anymore."

Dietler said aside from the legal requirement, having Native Americans on site helps flesh out the history of the objects the archeologists find.

"One of the great things about these guys, Morales and Salas, is that their ancestry goes back to that particular (mission) church, they've got a strong and continuous presence there and they've got the stories to go along with it," Dietler said.

The dig site is in the midst of a "multicultural Native American village" known as Sabangna, where many Gabrielenos and members of other tribes lived, Dietler said. A lot of the artifacts SWCA has found were either made by or belonged to Native Americans.

"Chances are almost anything we find is going to have some connection to Native Americans," Dietler said.

Artifacts found at the site include shell beads used for trade and exchange, traditional pottery, arrowheads and European-style bricks and tiles that were built by Native American Archaeologist working on dig in San Gabriel. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)


One obstacle project leaders have faced with the Native American monitoring is the political conflict between two different groups of Gabrieleno people in San Gabriel.

Though Morales was chosen as the original monitor, Andrew Salas, chairman of the other group of Gabrieleno San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, and his family approached ACE officials and asked to be included in the dig as well.

Hubler said the Salas family will help monitor the site when the next phase of the trench project begins.

"It's difficult for everybody involved, including the Native Americans," Dietler said. "The idea was not to have favorites, to try to keep it inclusive and to (involve) the two primary groups that are interested."

Andrew Salas said the artifacts found on site can bring the history of the native people to light.

"It's important that we're all involved, not just as monitors but we go back to our council to our tribe and we tell them look this is what they used to sew, to cook, to hunt," Salas said. "This gives interpretation of how we lived in the past."

Both Dietler and Salas said conflicts between members of the Native American community are not unique to the San Gabriel dig.

Dietler said he thinks including all the Native American groups is important.

"It's important to give the people whose ancestors left these things behind a voice in the process," Dietler said. "It's valuable and it's worthwhile because the end result is that I'm taking information from multiple sources and it makes it more honest and more accurate.",, 626-578-6300, ext. 4586

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Native American monitors on San Gabriel dig help ensure cultural preservation

By Lauren Gold, Staff Writer