SALT LAKE CITY — State scientists are trying to figure out how a bag of apparently very old bones happened to drop from the ceiling during a home renovation project.
“The bones are so old, they might belong to indigenous populations of Utah, that type of thing, and that’s what they’re looking at right now,” said Salt Lake police detective Dennis McGowan.
Police said the bones are old enough that what happened is no longer considered suspicious.
Police crime scene detectives were originally sent to the home in the 2700 block of Alden Street on May 1. The medical examiner reviewed the remains and passed them on to scientists at the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts.
McGowan said it was unclear if the bones were truly that old, nor why they appeared to drop in a bag from an area near the ceiling. Investigators said the heritage of the remains has not yet been determined.
“We do analysis on how old they are, and then we also try to determine the cultural affiliation,” said Heritage and Arts spokesman Geoffrey Fattah.
Fattah declined to comment on specifics about the remains, citing possible sensitivity concerns if they are determined to be of Native American descent. Fattah said Native Americans consider the remains of their dead sacred.
Scientists maintain the discovery of ancient remains just below ground level in a populated area isn’t entirely rare.
“It’s not that uncommon to actually find human remains if you’re digging for a water main,” Fattah said. “In this case, remodeling your house is a little bit of a surprise.”
McGowan and Fattah said the homeowners did the right thing when they called police.
“What we do ask people to do is if they do find them, to stop digging,” Fattah said. “From an archaeology perspective, the placement of the bones — how the bones were placed, what position they are in — tells its own story of who they are. So those are clues that people can then analyze and determine if they’re Native American, or sometimes they are pioneer graves that are unmarked.”
Fattah said it remained unclear how long it would take to obtain more clues about the bones.
“The remains that were turned over by (Salt Lake police) and the medical examiner’s office are queued up and so we’ll get to them, but it’s going to take some time to actually do the analysis,” he said.