Monday, June 18, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 15

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 14th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 15

Unmarked burial site verified at Mission Santa Ines


The buried remains of hundreds of mission-era people were discovered at the Santa Ines Mission grounds on June 1 after a visit from an Institute for Canine Forensics team.

The effort to search the grounds for previously unknown remains was spearheaded by mission archivist Sheila Benedict, who made an educated guess that there were people buried outside the mission’s cemetery walls.

After reviewing the mission’s burial records, which date back to its establishment in 1804, Benedict counted roughly 1,995 names that were not marked in the cemetery there. After a grant application she submitted received approval, Benedict organized the visit from the institute’s team that specializes in aged human remains.

“Their dogs do strictly old remains, they don’t do search and rescue, and they went through the cemetery,” she said. “It’s no surprise to me that they found remains there, and I asked them if they could check on the other side of wall.”

That’s when the canine investigators sniffed out a much larger burial site, Benedict said. Another fact-finding mission happened the next week, when Archaeo-Physics visited the mission with ground-penetrating radar.

The mission is still waiting on the radar reports, Benedict said, but along with the burial records, it may be possible to get a general idea of who is buried there based on the records and past investigations. She cited a previous ground-penetrating radar report completed nearby on mission grounds that revealed the footprints of some buildings—a barracks for Spanish soldiers and some Chumash living quarters.

But according to the books, most of the people buried there are probably Chumash, she said.

“It could be mixed-in Chumash with some Spanish soldiers. We don’t know exactly who’s in there, we may never know,” she said.

Benedict said that she alerted the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ tribal council about the ground-penetrating radar team’s visit, and Chumash staff and elders attended the search. Moving forward with investigating, moving, or marking the remains would be done with consideration for the wishes of the Chumash, she said.

Kenneth Kahn, the tribal chairman for the Chumash, told the Sun that he appreciated “the great working relationship” the tribe and the mission have currently. He explained that the Chumash’s Tribal Elders Council is mostly concerned with protecting the newly confirmed burial site.

“We’ve always understood that thousands of our people are on site there resting, and we want to make sure that we respect that and that any perimeters are respected as well,” Kahn said. “We know that a lot of activities take place on the mission grounds, and we want to make sure that there aren’t any activities happening on top of the grave sites.”

Benedict said that the results from the radar report will be made available to the Chumash immediately. The grant funding for the canine and radar investigations came mostly from the California Missions Foundation and some from the Native Daughters of the Golden West, she added.

“I’m delighted that I got the grant to do this because it confirms what the books say, about just how many people we have buried out there,” she said.

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