1800s-era skeletons discovered as crews build L.A. heritage center

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Construction of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes near Olvera Street has unearthed skeletons of early L.A. settlers in a cemetery thought to have been emptied in 1844. The excavation is stirring up controversy.

Since late October, the fragile bones of dozens of Los Angeles settlers have been discovered under what will be the outdoor space of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes downtown near Olvera Street. According to archaeologists and the chief executive of La Plaza, they appear to be remains from the Campo Santo, or cemetery, connected to the historic Catholic church Our Lady Queen of Angels, commonly called La Placita. The remains are just south of the church.

Pieces of decaying wood coffins as well as religious artifacts such as rosary beads and medals have also been unearthed.

The cemetery, which officially closed in 1844, was the final resting place of a melting pot of early Los Angeles — Native Americans; Spanish, Mexican, European settlers; and their intermarried offspring. But the repercussions of the discovery outside La Placita have been anything but peaceful.

A chorus of archaeologists, Native American community advocates and possible descendants of the people buried in the cemetery have criticized the methods and speed of the excavation, and questioned whether it should be continuing at all. The cultural center, including the outdoor space now under construction, is set to open with a gala on April 9 honoring La Plaza founder and Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina....

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