2009-12-12 / Top News

Human Remains Discovered During Trench Work

By Karen Gould

Human skeletal remains were uncovered just west of the Indian Dormitory on Mackinac Island Wednesday, November 4, during trenching work to add a new water line to the building. The remains, thought to be Indian, were secured until work was finished and then reburied at the site.

The 171-year-old former Indian Agency in Marquette Park is being converted by Mackinac State Historic Parks into a fine arts gallery.

"We know that Marquette Park is a sensitive area," said Dr. Lynn Evans, the curator of archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks. "The goal is always to minimize the disturbance, but when you get into areas that haven't been previously disturbed, there is always a possibility of finding remains."

For any construction work on a park site, said Dr. Evans, the staff tries to map out areas where work already has taken place, with a plan to perform as much work as possible in the same area.

"You always try to go where it has been disturbed," she said, "but with utilities, you never quite know where the previous disturbances are."

The park follows federal guidelines when it finds human remains and artifacts, said Steve Brisson, chief curator for Mackinac State Historic Parks. That protocol includes having Dr. Evans on site during any excavation work in case such items are discovered.

The shore area below the east bluff, including what is now Marquette Park, was used for centuries for Native burials, Mr. Brisson said, so the discovery this fall wasn't surprising.

When the skeletal remains were discovered, the location of the bones was recorded, then they were stored in a secure location in the immediate area until Belonga Excavating of St. Ignace repaired a water drainage problem in the trench.

Under the guidelines, and out of respect for the deceased, the park does not conduct any investigation or even measure the bones for future research.

"We do nothing with them," Mr. Birsson noted. "We tried to leave them undisturbed. If the trench could have been dug on the edge of it where they could have been left in, we wouldn't even have removed them, but we had to remove them."

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