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Construction crew discovers old skull while working in basement of historic home

Posted: November 20, 2011 - 12:08am
Construction worker Orion Hughes-Knowles carries a bucket of rock jackhammered by Dan Tackitt, right, under the Cable House on Thursday in Sitka. The job to re-enforce the foundation of the 103-year-old building has changed after workers discovered a human skull in a section of the project area.  James Poulson / Daily Sitka Sentinel
James Poulson / Daily Sitka Sentinel
Construction worker Orion Hughes-Knowles carries a bucket of rock jackhammered by Dan Tackitt, right, under the Cable House on Thursday in Sitka. The job to re-enforce the foundation of the 103-year-old building has changed after workers discovered a human skull in a section of the project area.

SITKA — Contractors working in the basement of the building that houses radio station KCAW discovered human remains that are believed to be old and likely predate the 103-year-old Cable House building.

The remains were found in between two slabs of bedrock. KCAW General Manager Ken Fate said when the discovery was made, work was stopped immediately.

“And the first thing we had to do was figure out what to do,” Fate said.

KCAW reported the police were contacted, and with the help of an archaeologist, determined that the remains were old and not part of a crime scene. Forest Service archaeologist Jay Kinsman then looked over the site for other materials — namely, wood or fiber — but found none.

“Those things would be clues as to when the bones were there, and possibly where the bones had come from. But there was none of that,” Fate said.

Fate said the archaeologist who looked at the site said he was unable to determine the age, sex or ethnicity of the remains.

“Erring on the side of caution, we determined that we better treat them as if they might be culturally significant, and we determined that we wanted to contact the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and that’s what we went ahead and did,” he said.

The Tribe’s cultural committee met, and elders were contacted. Sitka Tribe Resource Protection Director Jeff Feldpausch said the elders decided to offer a blessing over the remains.

“Initially, they felt the ceremony should be done regardless of whether the remains were Native or not, to pay respects and apologize for the disturbance,” Feldpausch said.

Fate said the next step is to learn more.

“Talking to elders that came over from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, they indicated that this area was not a village site, and was not a cemetery. So there is an element of mystery about where these bones came from, and when, and to the best of our ability, we’re hoping to respectfully find out as much as we can, and do the right thing by these bones,” he said.

Feldpausch told the Tribal Council during its regular meeting on Wednesday that learning more could involve DNA testing. If the bones are not Native, then the Tribe’s involvement would likely conclude. If they are Native bones, Feldpausch said there could be a reinterment of the remains in a more suitable location, and other protocols.

Meanwhile, work continues underneath the Cable House. The area of the basement containing the skeleton remains cordoned off and will be undisturbed.

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