A University of Idaho archaeologist has concluded that Indians weren't buried at a site in the Boise foothills where a housing development is planned.
But the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are challenging the professor, who was paid by the developer, and maintain their ancestors were buried near Castle Rock.Morningside Heights Partnership, which plans to break ground for the 177-home project this summer, also announced Monday it is donating 20 acres near the rock outcropping for a public park.
Even that drew fire from Indians and opponents of the development who said little of the land could be developed.
The reputed existence of Indian burial sites has a been a major focus of the fierce opposition to the development from neighbors and from Indians living hundreds of miles away.
After walking the 85-acre tract and reviewing historical materials, University of Idaho anthropology professor Roderick Sprague, concluded "there is no reason to assume that any burials are currently below the surface in the Castle Rock area."
But a tribal spokesman said Sprague failed to contact enough Indians for oral history or excavate the site.
"It was a cemetery," said Hobby Hevewah, a tribal land commissioner. "Who would be crazy enough to purchase a home built on a graveyard?"
State archaeologist Tom Green has said word-of-mouth accounts support the presence of graves. He offered no conclusion Monday on Sprague's findings without further study.
"I'm not necessarily unhappy with them," Green said. "I may dispute them."
But Green said Sprague didn't comply with a directive by the Boise City Council, when it approved the project last year, that he consult with a tribal representative approved by the Idaho Historical Society.
Sprague maintained he met the council's requirement by talking to Indians.
He acknowledged that there is a clear description of a looted burial site at the bottom of a landslide near the rock. And he said there is an impression by a qualified local historian of burials in the area.
Otherwise, he said, "there is nothing but recent unverified and poorly acquired `oral history' of doubtful value."
He said he carefully inspected slopes for signs of burials, but found none.
Sprague, who said he has worked for 22 years with Native American tribes to protect burial remains, said he has no pro-development bias.
Hevewah said Monday the tribes haven't decided what to do about the Sprague study.
The 20-acre tract will be turned over to the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands when plans for the first phase of the development are filed with the city, project manager Dianne Pierce said.
"The rock means something to a variety of people, and we've decided to donate that rock and 20 acres around it," she said.
Except for an "estate" home that Morningside Heights was barred by the city from building behind the rock outcrop, the 20 acres weren't targeted for housing.
The 20 acres could have remained for use of the development's residents as open space, were it not to be turned over to the public, Pierce said.
Hevewah said, "It sounds good for the City of Boise, but I don't think it pertains to any of us."