USC students are helping archaeologists excavate the bones of a horse-racing legend Sunday. Native Diver, who was buried below a monument at the now shuttered Hollywood Park Race Track, will be moving to Del Mar racetrack in San Diego.
A team of students are taking part in the process, along with their lecturer, Tom Garrison, who says the process will allow students to see what it's like to uncover a near fully-preserved skeleton, something they may not see later in their careers.
"It's really exciting for us, and it's a great teaching opportunity for our students because we're able to see something that's in really good shape," Garrison said. "That will help them further down the line when they're excavating something that's not in such good condition."
Garrison said after the racetrack closed, the Shapiro family, who owned the horse, reached out to the school's archaeology department to assist them in moving their beloved horse's remains.
"They wanted to do it carefully, so the remains would all be recovered intact," Garrison said. "And they asked the archaeology department at USC to help out with that effort."
Richard Shapiro is a USC alumnus and the grandson of the horse's owner and breeder. He helped dig in the trenches. By mid afternoon Sunday, the team said they'd uncovered Native Diver's rib cage, pelvis and most of the limbs.
"It's startling to see that he never stopped running even in his grave. The way his legs are placed, it looks as if he's running. And he just was an amazing, amazing horse."
The people's horse
Before the excavation began this weekend, Shapiro showed the students his memorabilia related to the thoroughbred and related his memories growing up with Native Diver when he was a boy in the '60s.
"We like the students to understand that archaeology isn't just about digging up material. It's about digging up people's memories and people's past history," Garrison said. "So in that sense this was a really good opportunity to have a personal connection with the remains that were being taken out of the ground."
Native Diver was one of the first horses to come out of California and was a huge fan favorite when he raced in the state, Shapiro said.
"This is a horse that won more stakes races than any other horse in the history of the sport. He was the first horse ever bred in the state of California to make $1 million."
Shapiro says the horse's remains will be shipped to the Del Mark racetrack in San Diego County. He hopes to create a new monument there before the fall racing season.
"You can't leave him be. You can't," Shapiro said. "He deserves this."