Putuidem Village

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Location: San Juan Capistrano, California

Official Listing: National Register of Historic Places (pending)

Who Considers it Sacred? the Juaneno/Acjachemem people

Significance: Putuidem was the original “mother” village of the people now known as the Juaneno/Acjachemem. It had survived as archaeological site CA-ORA-855 and archaeological data indicates that the site was a substantial village in California’s Late Prehistoric Period. The quantity of tool types, other artifacts and ecofactual remains provide evidence of a variety of procurement system and adaptive strategies and a complex social and religious life. Today, the site occupies 29 acres approximately ½ mile north of Mission San Juan Capistrano. The cemetery contains original prehistoric burials and those that were disturbed by off-site modern development and reburied at the site by Juaneno/Acjachemem with ceremony.

As an archaeological site, the property no longer has the physical features that could be recognized as a prehistoric village/cemetery, yet the Juaneno/Acjachemem recognize the site as their mother village and cemetery and attribute a feeling of spiritual renewal at the property. The site evokes a sense of tribal life that was disturbed by the European incursion and the induction of the Acjachemem into the Spanish Mission of San Juan Capistrano. They associate the site with cultural practices and beliefs that are rooted in their cultural history and they regard access to and use of the site as important to maintaining their continuing cultural identity.

The Threat: Urbanization (housing developments and road construction)

Preservation Status: The California cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA), a non-profit organization, along with Juaneno/Acjachemem tribal members and the Sierra Club Sacred Sites Task Force worked to try and save the site. They worked with the developer, Pueblo Serra, decision makers and the public to present an alternate plan that would preserve the site. When that failed, they joined in an unsuccessful lawsuit against the permitting agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the developers.

Despite their efforts, the site has completely disappeared. Remnants that escaped excavation lie beneath the recreation facilities for a private Catholic High School, which ironically is named after Junipero Serra, the priest who established the missions that led to the destruction of the California Indians, including the Juaneno who were named after Mission San Juan Capistrano. The portion of the site containing burials is covered with fill and developed into a ball field and running track. The remainder of the site was excavated to make way for a gymnasium, swimming pool, theater, roads, parking lot and landscape. Today, the Juaneno/Acjachemem no longer have access to the graves of their ancestors and the place of their cultural and tribal roots.

Nominated By: The California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance

For More Information: Sacred Sites Newsletter Volume XX, Numbers 1 & 2, Fall 2008/Winter 2009

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