State and federal officials are investigating the human remains found near Wrangell last weekend during a fishing trip.
Vena Stough and her family were fishing off Government Slough when she found a partial skull. She turned the remains over to local police who notified the U.S. Forest Service in Wrangell. Tongass Archaeologist Mark McCallum said he sent pictures of the skull to the state medical examiner.
“The state medical examiner’s office has forensic anthropologists on staff who will be able to make an initial assessment as to the potential of Native American ancestry. Based on that initial assessment, they’ll determine the need, if there is one, to transport those remains up to Anchorage for further examination,” he said.
He said if the medical examiner’s office determines the remains belong to an Alaska Native, the case will be in the forest service’s hands and the agency will follow the rules laid out through the Native American Graves Protection Act. McCallum said federal law requires them to create a plan of action regarding transfer of custody and burial of the remains in consultation with the local tribes.
He said the forest service has already been in contact with the Wrangell Cooperative Association. The agency is in the process of getting in touch with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes and officials with the Sealaska Heritage Institute.
WCA President Ernie Christian said if it’s confirmed that the remains are Native, the board and Elders will determine what to do next.
“Until we actually see the remains and determine if they’re of Native origins, the we’ll move forward in the correct manner. But, since it’s very and new and I think my own perspective, it’s great to get the historical background and show that that Natives have been in Alaska for many thousands of years and so that’s always exciting,” Christian said.
He said he would like to find out more about the remains if they are of Native origin.
“We have other remains that we’re in the process of taking care of. In the back channel there were some hand bones that were found and carbon-dated and they were, if I remember right, over 3,500 years old. So, if we do the same with this remains that were currently found, we might possibly do that just to give us an idea,” he said.
McCallum said he commends the people who made the discovery because they took pictures of its location, pin-pointed the spot through Google Maps and turned the skull over to local police. He said it’s better not to disturb the remains, but in this instance, taking the skull with them was the best option.
“I learned today that the location that the skull was found has since flooded, that that slough, which was dry last week, is now inundated. So, I believe that they made the right call,” McCallum said.
He said discoveries like this one are not uncommon in Southeast and expects an initial determination in a few days. McCallum said if it’s discovered the remains are not of Native origin, the Alaska State Troopers and local police would become involved.