Bag o' Bones

An ancient Indian skeleton has local officials trying to pass the buck

"We were able to go over there to the morgue and take a look at it, take some more pictures," Allen says. "They basically had it laid out on a gurney."

The medical examiner's office was skeptical about the age of the bones. But, Dalbey says, the office allowed a piece of rib to be dated using what is known as "carbon dating," a common method archaeologists use to determine the age of something such as bones. Tests, which Dalbey paid for, showed that the bones are somewhere around 900 to 1,000 years old, which is actually not as old as they thought the remains might be.

Besides the bones, which were found about 18 feet below the top of the riverbank, the potential dig site itself could be large and could add to the dearth of information about Indian tribes in the area at that time, Dalbey says.

Canoe guide Charles Allen first noticed the bones found on the Trinity in August 2001, but he knew better than to dig them up.
Peter Calvin
Canoe guide Charles Allen first noticed the bones found on the Trinity in August 2001, but he knew better than to dig them up.

"What they didn't realize is that it was part of a bigger archaeological site. A skeleton is just one part of a bigger site of the people that used to live there," Dalbey says. "There are earthen features, fire pits and hearths and stuff like that, which is indicative of a pre-historic Indian site...We wanted to prove to the coroner that this was not a modern burial. This had to do with a more prehistoric realm, and they shouldn't have actually been down there digging," he says.

No one from the medical examiner's office would agree to be interviewed for this article or even be identified as a representative from that office. The Dallas Observer did confirm, however, that the remains are still in the medical examiner's possession.

Allen says the way the remains and the site have been treated are probably typical. Unlike such discoveries depicted on public television programs, no one seems inclined to treasure this site for its archaeological value, importance or even interest, he says.

"I think it's a real good example of what happens with archaeological sites," Allen says. "They don't look real hard for evidence of archaeological sites, and when they do find it, it's a big fight over who's going to pay for documentation of it, and that's what's going on right now."

Dalbey says the simple fact is that no one wants to claim the site because they don't want to pay for it.

"The point is that it's on county property, but the county doesn't want to 'fess up that it's theirs," he says.

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