Archaeologists dig into San Gabriel's past in wake of construction project

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

Archaeologist Henry Chodsky clears dust from the wall of an adobe house discovered in an excavation near the San Gabriel Mission.

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

Dozens of buckets of dirt at the site of an excavation near the San Gabriel Mission wait to be excavated on Feb. 2, 2012.

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

News media and community members listen to San Gabriel's mayor at a press conference. The San Gabriel Mission is across the street from the dig site.

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

Digging tools near the site of a dig in the San Gabriel valley.

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

One of dozens of buckets of dirt finds its way into a sifting tray near the San Gabriel Mission.

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

Archaeologist Ryan Glenn clears dirt at a dig site near San Gabriel Mission. The dig has unearthed items dating back to the 18th century.

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

An archaeologist digs his way through dirt near the San Gabriel Mission.

San Gabriel Mission Excavation

Grant Slater/KPCC

Archaeologists sift through dirt for items of historical interest at the site of a dig.


An excavation near the San Gabriel Mission has uncovered remnants of one of Los Angeles’ most important early cultural centers.

Archaeologists began digging in November near the mission, where San Gabriel city officials are creating a subterranean path for freight and passenger trains. The legally mandated dig has unearthed the remnants of a mill dating back to the 18th century, as well as a group of other buildings.

Some members of the native Gabrieleno tribe attended an open viewing of the excavation.

"Our concern for our people is basically for the handling with dignity and respect of the human remains," said Art Zuniga, a member of the Gabrieleno band of Mission Indians.

As of yet, no human remains have been found.

Chief archaeologist on the dig John Dietler said the railroad construction offers a unique opportunity.

"The value of archaeology isn’t really in the objects," Dietler said. "It’s in the things that we learn. And the best way we learn these things is through excavation, which is itself a destructive process."

He went on to say that while the city development's moving of the artifacts was "a bit of a tragedy," it was also undeniably "an enormous benefit to science."

The 2.2-mile construction project will lower one-and-a-half miles of the Union Pacific railroad and route it through San Gabriel via a trench. The city is also planning to build bridges at Ramona Street, Mission Road, Del Mar Avenue and San Gabriel Boulevard so that pedestrians and traffic can pass over the tracks.

"Grade crossings are very dangerous," San Gabriel Mayor David Gutierrez said. "Once completed, the grade separation project will eliminate congestion, emissions from idling vehicles, train warning horn and bell noise and, most importantly, the potential for deadly crossing collisions."

The dig will continue through March. Construction on the San Gabriel trench will begin once excavation is complete.

The excavation is being funded in part by the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority.

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