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Environmental & Resource Protection
Archaeological Resources

Archaeological sites are among the most fragile, nonrenewable resources in California. Detailed study of archaeological sites is the only method of gaining knowledge and understanding of prehistoric cultures. In addition, many of the sites and the artifacts and remains in them are a sacred part of the heritage, religion, and culture of the Native American community.

In California, various laws and regulations require the development of property to be accompanied by a rational and respectful concern for the protection of cultural resources. This concern should be incorporated into the procedures through which the property is developed. There are several important concepts and methods to remember when developing property, be it for a single family residence, a subdivision, or construction of an industrial complex:

  1. Some areas are more likely than others to contain resources.

    Level to gently rolling areas near the coast or along water courses are more likely to contain archaeological sites. However, because humans have occupied Santa Cruz County for at least 9,000 years, dramatic changes in landforms may have occurred and archaeological sites may be found elsewhere.

  2. An archaeological site will not prevent development.

    The identification of an archaeological or historic site on a property does not mean that development cannot occur. It usually does mean that certain mitigation measures, such as relocating building areas away from the site or bringing in additional fill material, must be implemented for successful completion of the development.

  3. Archeological sites should be identified as early as possible.

    It is best to identify potential archaeological sites for a project as early as possible in the planning process. Early identification of a site is advantageous to the applicant because mitigation measures can be built into the project proposal.

  4. If a site is discovered during work, stop immediately.

    The Planning Department staff will work with all parties concerned to mitigate impacts upon the archaeological site in an expeditious and effective manner. It is important to note that failure to cease work on the project or attempting to hide the find is in violation of Section 16.40 of the County Code and possibly state criminal law. Such actions could result in a long-term delay of your project, fines and costly detailed studies of the site to be paid for by the applicant.

  5. Archaeological reports.

    If an archaeological report is required for your project, contact an archaeologist to prepare a report to be sumitted to the Planning Department. The Planning Department maintains a list of archaeological consultants with whom the County has had experience and accepts as qualified. A copy of the list is available on the County website here. If you wish to use an archaeologist other than one on the list, please contact the Planning Department for approval before initiation of the survey.

  6. Discovery of human remains.

    The County Code Section 16.40.040, and California Public Resources Code (section 5097.98) and Health and Safety Code (section 7050.5) address the discovery and disposition of human remains. In the event of discovery or recognition of any human remains in any location other than a dedicated cemetery, the law requires that no further excavation or disturbance of the site, or any nearby area where human remains may be located, occur until:

    1. The Sheriff-Coroner and Planning Director have been notified.
    2. If the Coroner determines that the remains are not of recent origin, a full archeological report shall be prepared and representatives of the local Native California Indian group shall be contacted.
    3. Disturbance shall not resume until the significance of the archeological resource is determined and appropriate mitigations to preserve the resource on the site are established.

    It is important to note that California law prohibits disinterring, disturbing, or removing human remains from any location other than a dedicated cemetery without first complying with the above provisions. Desecration of a Native American burial in California is a crime.