Archaeology and Historic Resources Guide

Ninety-five percent of California's cultural history is contained in the archaeological remains of the prehistoric culture. Archaeological sites are among the most fragile, nonrenewable resources in the state. 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 addition to prehistoric resources, California also contains a wealth of historic cultural resources representing the more recent past of the State. Although rarely more than 200 years old, these resources are as fragile and irreplaceable as archaeological remains that may be thousands of years old.

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.

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 San Luis Obispo County for at least 9,000 years, dramatic changes in landforms may have occurred and archaeological sites may be found nearly anywhere.

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 does usually 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.

Archaeological sites should be identified as early as possible

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

If a site is discovered during work, stop immediately

The environmental division of the planning department 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 the Land Use Ordinance 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.

Archaeological & cultural resource surveys

The Department of Planning & Building maintains a list of archaeological consultants with whom the County has had experience and accepts as qualified. Copies of the list are available upon request at no charge. If you wish to use an archaeologist other than one on the list, please contact the staff for approval before initiation of the survey. If you think an archaeological survey has already been conducted for your property, you may contact the Central Coast Archaeological Information Center at:

University of California Santa Barbara
Department of Anthropology
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3210
(805) 893-2474

For a fee, the Information Center will conduct a records search to see if a survey has been done on your property.

Discovery of human remains

The County Land Use Ordinances 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 County Coroner has been informed and has determined that no investigation of the cause of death is required, and
  2. If the remains are of Native American origin, the descendants from the deceased Native Americans have made a recommendation for the means of treating or disposing of, with appropriate dignity, the human remains and any associated grave goods.

If the discovery of human remains is in conjunction with a project requiring a permit from the County, then the County Environmental Coordinator must also be contacted. If the activity leading to the discovery does not require a County permit, the Environmental Coordinator can still provide assistance to the land owner.

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.