Human Remains Found In Utah Backyard Belonged To 1,000-Year-Old American Indian

By Ben Wolford on March 29, 2014 9:39 AM EDT

A man in Utah was digging a pond when he discovered some buried bones — and they appeared human. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A man in Utah was digging a pond when he discovered some buried bones — and they appeared human. (Photo: Shutterstock)

When a homeowner in Utah tried to dig a pond for a landscaping project in his backyard, he stumbled upon an unlikely obstacle: bones.

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They seemed human, but unsure, he called the local Salt Lake City authorities, according to news reports. The police officers who responded called in the state medical examiner, which sent workers to load the bones up and take them back to the lab for tests. "I've had cases before where I've seen they've just brought (bones) back and booked them into evidence, but there must be something with this case to where they actually got the medical examiner involved," Salt Lake City Police Detective Veronica Montoya told a local TV station, KSL.

That was Wednesday. By Friday, the homeowner had his answer: they were, in fact, human remains, but he was not a murder suspect. Turns out the bones once belonged to an American Indian who lived in Utah about 1,000 years ago. Forensic anthropologists were continuing to examine the remains to determine the person's "sex and any signs of cultural affiliation," according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

It seems that if you dig long enough in some parts of the country, you're bound to turn over some bones. According to Geoffrey Fattah, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, the agency hears five to seven reports of ancient findings each year, the Tribune reported. "Humans have occupied this valley for up to 10,000 years," Fattah said. "We do run into situations where progress runs into the ancient past."

In fact, just on Thursday another prehistoric human find was confirmed along the Arizona-Utah border, according to the Associated Press. Children hiking there last November with their mother spotted the dirt-stained bones and reported them to authorities, who quickly surmised they were ancient. Further examination revealed they likely belong to one of the nomadic people who roamed the area 1,800 years ago.

In each case, state officials are contacting American Indian tribes to determine possible heritage. In the Utah case, Fattah says the state Division of Indian Affairs will test the remains; if a tribe claims them, they may perform a sacred re-interment. The man who discovered the remains asked that he not be named, pending the results of the medical examiner's investigation. No word whether his landscaping project will be allowed to go forward.

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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