For months they worked together to reveal details of the cave where the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, Calif., may have lived, painstakingly removing bucket after bucket of sand — 40,000 in all.
Navy archaeologist Steve Schwartz, who was helping lead the project, was impressed by one of the Cal State L.A. students taking part in the high-profile dig: Tom Holm, a filmmaker who was eager to weave the team’s archaeology lessons into a documentary based on the work.
And Holm felt blessed to work shoulder-to-shoulder with experts, marveling at their knowledge of the 19th century Native American woman who survived on the Channel Island for 18 years, abandoned and alone.
In April 2012, they were inches away from relics that would flesh out the real-life story of the woman who inspired the novel “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” one of the 20th century’s most popular novels for young readers and required reading in many California schools.
Then commanders at the naval base on the island about 65 miles southwest of Point Mugu ordered Schwartz to halt the dig.