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Answers emerge about historic bones discovered in Salt Lake home

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23 2013 7:28 p.m. MDT

A state forensic anthropologist has determined the bones discovered in a Salt Lake home date back more than 100 years and are likely Native American. (Shutterstock) A state forensic anthropologist has determined the bones discovered in a Salt Lake home date back more than 100 years and are likely Native American. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — A state forensic anthropologist has determined that the bones discovered in a Salt Lake home date back more than 100 years and are likely Native American.

But some questions about them may never be answered.

The bones fell out of the basement ceiling of a Salt Lake house in the 2700 block of Alden Street earlier this year, but it's unknown how or when the bones were packed up in a bag and tucked into the ceiling.

Radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analysis revealed the remains likely belong to a man who lived between 1710 and 1910 and subsisted mainly on wild plants and animals, but ate very little corn, according to a report released Wednesday by the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts.

While researchers believe the man was most likely Native American, they can't determine his cultural affiliation, and it's still possible he was of Anglo descent, according to the report. A DNA analysis could provide a more precise determination, should anyone come forward to claim a possible relation to the man and request testing.

The location of the man's original burial is unknown. No artifacts were included with his body to provide any clues and no one knows how he wound up in the house.

"Whenever remains are removed from their resting place, we lose a lot of valuable data," department spokesman Geoffrey Fattah said Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Fattah is pleased researchers were able to discover at least some information about the man's life.

"We also consider that this was once a human being, this was once a person," Fattah said. "We try to treat all human remains that we work with with reverence and respect, and particularly with Native Americans, who have special reverence for their ancestors."

Because no cultural affiliation could be determined, the man's remains won't be released to any specific tribe for repatriation, but will be laid to rest in a Utah Department of Heritage and Arts facility.

It's not uncommon for historic remains to surface as Utahns go about development or other projects, though they're usually discovered in the ground, Fattah said. Anyone who discovers bones is asked to stop digging and contact police immediately.

Officers have been trained by the department's antiquities section to identify whether the bones are animal or human, and determine if they are historic, Fattah said.

"If you do discover bones, whether you're hiking or digging or what have you, don't disturb them," Fattah said. "Stop what you're doing and just call the authorities, just so we can come and make sure they are respectfully processed and treated with dignity."

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