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Indian burial ground found at Lake Sherwood

Indian burial ground found at Lake Sherwood

Jack and Hazel Speirs examine a skull found buried near Lake Sherwood. Photo published in the Los Angeles Times on July 25, 1949

In the summer of 1949, a bulldozer working on the bank of a creek near Lake Sherwood in Ventura County turned up something unexpected: human bones.

Digging at the spot eventually revealed some 30 skeletons, plus, according to a Los Angeles Times article at the time, “numerous rock bowls and pestles and quite a bit of Indian money.”

The digging was done by Jack and Hazel Speirs, residents of Lake Sherwood, and Albert Peters, Hazel’s brother. The Speirs tended the picnic grounds and operated the boating and fishing at Lake Sherwood, which is tucked into Hidden Valley near what is now the city of Thousand Oaks.

The amateur archaeologists concluded that the bones belonged to members of either the Barona or “Sumash” tribe, The Times said. (The “Sumash” reference likely referred to the Chumash tribe, which historically inhabited the area.)

One of the things the digging crew found most interesting were the notable differences between how men and women were buried. The Times story said:

The male skeletons were found in a sitting position and always facing the east. The important or wealthier ones had heavy stone bowls, some weighing as much as 25 pounds, inverted on top of their heads. Their arms were extended before them and held stone pestles as if offering them to the rising sun.

By contrast, the women were buried “any which way,” according to the Speirs, and frequently the skeleton of a child was found clutched to the bosom of a female skeleton.

Jack and Hazel Speirs would continue to live the rest of their lives at Lake Sherwood, with Jack becoming something of an unofficial historian of the area. Jack Speirs, who later went on to be a writer and producer for Walt Disney Studios, died at age 86 in 2002. Hazel Speirs died the next year at age 88.

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