Digging stops in front of Gastineau School

'Anomalies' found in soil on work site where Native grave was discovered
Gastineau Elementary School, Tuesday.

Less than two weeks after construction crews at Gastineau Community School unearthed a Native gravesite from the 1920s, “dirt work” at the school is on hold while archaeologists work to determine whether there could be more bodies or artifacts buried in the construction zone, Deputy City Manager Rob Steedle said Tuesday.

Steedle said digging outside the campus was halted last Friday.

“There were signs that there may be other artifacts present, so we stopped. We don’t want to disturb anything,” Steedle said.

Digging will remain paused while the results of a ground-penetrating radar scan, performed Saturday, are determined, he said.

“We scanned the area with ground-penetrating radar to see … what else is in the project area, because we don’t want to disturb anything, and we don’t yet have the results,” Steedle said.

Preliminary reports indicated several “anomalies,” Steedle added, though he noted those anomalies were not necessarily buried gravesites or human remains.

“An anomaly could be anything from burial artifacts to construction debris to a rock,” Steedle said.

Steedle said he could not confirm what indications had prompted digging to stop last Friday, nor could John Bohan, acting director of the Engineering Department. Department director Rorie Watt is on leave.

The Empire reported last month that Watt said the gravesite of Sam Goldstein, the Chilkat man whose 1927 gravesite was discovered by crews at Gastineau on June 21, was apparently missed when Native remains were exhumed during Gastineau’s expansion in the 1960s.

Since halting work outside Gastineau last Friday, Steedle said the city has been in contact with the Douglas Indian Association.

“We’re being very sensitive to their concerns,” said Steedle. “We want to treat this with the utmost sensitivity.”

The Douglas Indian Association did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Juneau School District spokesperson Kristin Bartlett said Steedle notified the JSD on Monday that preliminary reports from the radar had suggested the possibility of more bodies at Gastineau, but she said she had no additional information.

“I’m not really in the loop with accurate information, so at this time, I certainly think that the city has been proceeding appropriately,” Bartlett said.

“We informed the school district just because they’re our client, and anything that can materially affect the construction, we need to inform them of,” Steedle explained. “If worst came to worst and we had to stop construction in that area altogether, we would be able to open the school.”

For now, Steedle said, construction crews are waiting on the results of the scan.

“I don’t think we’ll have anything before the end of the week,” said Steedle. “There’s no more dirt work taking place until we resolve what we’re looking at.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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