UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and one of its research associates have won a prestigious statewide award for high-tech mapping efforts at a local private cemetery that dates to California's rancho era in the mid-1800s.
Using ground-penetrating radar, the team has identified 15 possible grave sites, as well as a potential mass burial pit, at the Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery in Santa Monica Canyon, whose original wooden grave markers have disintegrated.
Project participants will receive the Governor's Historic Preservation Award on Jan. 20 at a formal ceremony in Sacramento along with 11 other award winners statewide.
Roberta Deering, who served on the awards jury, described the Cotsen research as "one of the most innovative, integrative and educational — in the broadest sense of the term — projects I've come across in my 30-plus years in historic preservation."
The results are being used by Marquez descendants to develop a restoration plan for the site, which was declared a historic-cultural monument in 2000 by the city of Los Angeles.
"We're really excited," said Shauna Mecartea, assistant director of the Cotsen. "This project vividly demonstrates the value that UCLA provides to the community. It also illustrates what archaeology can mean for the present."
The team was led by Dean Goodman, a Cotsen research associate who specializes in archaeological remote-sensing technology and runs a private geoarchaeological lab.
"In 50 years, nobody is going to remember us, but they'll know about the people in the cemetery and the people who lived there and what life was like for them," Goodman said. "The real winner here is the public."
In the late 1840s, Francisco Marquez, the Mexican co-holder of the Rancho Boca de Santa Monica land grant given by his government, is thought to have established a burial ground on the canyon's wide-open upper mesa. The cemetery contains the remains of his youngest son, Pascual, and perhaps 30 other family members, American Indian servants and friends — including 10 of 13 guests who died of botulism after eating home-canned peaches at a New Year's Eve gathering.
"I've devoted half my life to trying to preserve this site, and it's great to have recognition after all this time," said Ernest Marquez, Pascual's 85-year-old grandson and a retired commercial artist who lives in West Hills.
Joseph Peyton, a descendant of the Marquez family, and Tish Nettleship, director of the Santa Monica–based La Señora Research Institute, nominated the Cotsen and Goodman, who operates the Geophysical Archaeometry Laboratory in Woodland Hills. La Señora, which is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of Rancho Boca de Santa Monica, has been instrumental in the Marquez family's quest to preserve the cemetery.
"We really wanted to thank everyone for all the great things coming out of this relationship," Nettleship said.
This Governor's Award is the second to go to a Cotsen-affiliated project in the past decade. In 2001, the Rock Art Archive received the award for its efforts to document pictographs in the Mojave Desert under the direction of Cotsen research associate Jo Anne Van Tilburg.
First given in 1986, the Governor's Historic Preservation Awards are presented annually under the sponsorship of the state Office of Historic Preservation and California State Parks to organizations or public agencies whose contributions demonstrate "notable achievements in preserving the heritage of California."
Media attention around the mapping activities at the Marquez cemetery inspired numerous descendants to reconnect with the family. In addition, the activities served as a learning experience for both UCLA archaeology students and students at nearby Canyon Elementary School.
The accolade comes at a key point for the cemetery. Dec. 31 is the 100th anniversary of the botulism deaths.