Skeletal remains found in Salt Lake City front yard may be 1,000 years old

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 1:58 p.m. MST

Utah Division of State History's Derinna Kopp, left, and Arie Leeflang retrieve remains of a human skeleton in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. A contractor working on a residential home remodel discovered the human remains believed to be nearly 1,000 years old.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Don Selby was digging out a water main Monday, pulling up dirt and debris from a homeowner's front yard.

What he didn't expect to dig up was a human skull.

"I hit something, and I didn't know if it was an unmarked pipe," the owner of Dependable Plumbing said Tuesday.

Even after Selby brushed the dirt off the object, "I still wasn't sure what it was."

But it didn't take long before Selby and his crew realized what they had found.

"We said, 'We better get out of the trench and call police,'" he said. "It's kind of a new experience for us. It was a little bit eerie, wasn't sure if something went awry."

What officials from the antiquities section of the Utah Division of State History believe was found is a burial site of a Native American, possibly a Fremont Indian, from approximately 1,000 years ago.

When physical anthropologists from the state got to the scene, they uncovered the full skeletal remains of an adult.

The remains were found in the front yard of a home at 1131 S. 100 East. New owners recently purchased the 100-year-old home and decided to upgrade the water main that went into the house. The water main was reportedly the original one, made of lead, installed in the 1920s.

On Monday, while Selby was working a backhoe and digging about 5 feet into the ground, he came across a skull.

"What are the chances of that being directly by where we were digging?" he asked. "If we were 1 foot away we would have missed it."

Derinna Kopp, a physical anthropologist with the state, was on scene supervising the excavation Tuesday. She said based mainly on prior history of the region, she believes the remains have a good chance of being a Fremont Indian from over 1,000 years ago.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, there have been six other similar finds in the immediate area where Monday's discovery was made, she said. There were no other artifacts found around the remains. Kopp said that was consistent with how the Fremont tribe buried their dead.

She said the skeleton was found in a fetal position. There were no other remains near it, Kopp said. She could not tell if the person was male or female.

The remains will be taken by the state for analysis and to determine if the deceased is part of any modern tribe. Once the investigation is completed, a report will be sent to all the local tribes, Kopp said. If a tribe wishes to claim the remains and rebury the person, they may. If no one claims the remains, they will be included with a burial vault in Emigration Canyon where unclaimed Native American remains are kept.

Once the remains were removed from the yard, the excavation company was allowed to continue their work.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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