Ancient human remains found in dirt pile in Haines

Human remains were found in a pile of dirt on Monday afternoon in Haines. Employees at the American Bald Eagle Foundation were working on improving accommodations for raptors residing there, when they unearthed part of a skull. An initial, local assessment revealed the remains are at least a few hundred years old and are that of a Native American woman.

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Part of a human skull was found in a dirt pile at the American Bald Eagle Foundation on Monday. (Cheryl McRoberts)
Part of a human skull was found in a dirt pile at the American Bald Eagle Foundation on Monday. (Cheryl McRoberts)

Earlier this week, Chloe Goodson, the raptor curator at the Eagle Foundation got quite the surprise while working outside on the property.

“We were shoveling away, there was just three of us – myself, another staff member and an intern – and suddenly we struck something that wasn’t quite breaking apart and we were sort of wondering ‘what is this object?’ One person said ‘Is this a coconut?’ another person said “Is it like a clay pot or something? This is really weird.” One of the interns said she could see traces of where blood vessels were so we were thinking ‘What kind of animal was this at some point?’ So, we turned it around, and turned it around then we came face to face with a human skull. You could see the top of the ridges for the eyes and part of the bridge of the nose was still there between the eyes.”

Goodson says the dirt pile was delivered from a site at 6.5-mile Haines Highway. They were working to convert two sheds into aviaries for the raptors.

Part of a human skull was found in a dirt pile at the American Bald Eagle Foundation on Monday. (Cheryl McRoberts)
Part of a human skull was found in a dirt pile at the American Bald Eagle Foundation on Monday. (Cheryl McRoberts)

“Everyone was pretty much just in shock – eyes wide, jaws dropped. This doesn’t happen to real people, this is something that you’d only see in a movie or something.”

She says they stood there in utter astonishment for a moment before alerting Foundation director Cheryl McRoberts and calling the police.

Interim Police Chief Robert Griffiths says the police are working with local tribal organizations.

“We have a human skull that was found that’s an ancient artifact so we’re coordinating the excavation of that site in cooperation with both of our tribes in town.”

Haines police responded and initiated an investigation Monday afternoon. Griffiths says local anthropologist Anastasia Wiley examined the artifact and determined the remains are those of a female Native American, at least 40 years of age, and most likely date from before the 1700s.

Griffiths says that the State Medical Examiner’s Office is looking at photographs of the skull. When the origin and age of the remains are determined, it will be returned to ancestors in the area for a traditional burial.

“If it’s truly an antiquity, and we believe it is based on our limited knowledge of it, then the medical examiner will simply turn it back over to us to release to the family and in this case the family would be the descendants, which in this case would be the local Native organizations.”

When police arrived they found another small piece of bone in the pile. Goodson says watching the anthropologist examine the skull and make her observations was fascinating.

“She just came to the conclusion of older, possibly female, Native American before the 1700s and she just went into all of the explanation for that and it was just really impressive.”

Goodson says she volunteered to help go through the dirt pile with Wiley and other volunteers.

“When I took the job as raptor curator, I never thought I would dig up human remains, so that was pretty interesting.”

The site at 6.5-mile will also be excavated to see if there are other remains in the area.