From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 8 - May 17, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Skeletal remains halt septic system

by Tiffany Turner

The majority of six skeletal remains were found May 10 on the outskirts of Pinedale when an excavation crew was digging the septic for Pinedale residents Julie and Jerry Morrell’s new home.

The crew came across an assortment of skulls, pelvises and other parts of what appeared to be numerous skeletons and was not sure what to think.

“They thought someone was playing a joke on them,” Julie said. “At first they just thought someone had come out and hidden them.”

When it became apparent that this was no joke, Jerry (who was on the site already) called Julie to let her know.

“The boys found something,” he told her. Morrell, a bit unnerved when they told her it was skeletons they were pulling off their property (she’d been hoping for gold), went straight over.

The Morrells called the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO). According to a release from the SCSO, work on the property was immediately stopped and archaeologists Dave Crowley and Dave Vlcek from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were called in for their expertise.

SCSO originally had to close the location as a crime scene. Their release stated that it “has since been release ... as it has been determined to be archaeological/historical.”

“We’ve spent hours sifting, sorting and shoveling dirt,” Julie said.

She has also spent quite a bit of time on the phone with various individuals attempting to learn as much about the remains as possible.

In addition to the BLM archaeologists, the Morrells have been in contact with forensic anthropologist Russell Nelson and Coroner Don Schooley.

Nelson has begun to piece together the skeletons and has found that mostly the left sides of all the bodies were found.

“It appears we have uncovered about half of everything…we basically recovered the left side of these individuals,” Julie said.

Of the 20 bones already on the missing list from Nelson, only three of them come from the left side of the individuals. Nelson has determined the group of bones belongs to three adults and three sub-adults.

According to the SCSO release, Vlcek believes these skeletons may be archaic, which would make them between 2,000-4,000 years old.

“I’ve been told it’s difficult to determine how old they are,“ Julie said. “The bones are very dense and well preserved. Apparently the soil conditions were just right.”

According to Julie, radiocarbon dating is being considered and the SCSO has contacted a lab in Boulder, Colo., concerning the process.

“Craniofacial criteria are leaning towards Native American ancestry,” the SCSO release said. Nelson is also investigating the ancestry of the remains.

“Russell (Nelson) said they are smaller people,” Julie said. “They are not large and rangy like the Native Americans in this area tended to be, which leads him to believe they are of Euro-American descent.”

“He said these people (Euro-American Indians) were more nomadic; they didn’t do the labor and work the others did like farming and building, so they tended to be smaller people,” Julie added.

Due to the possible Native American ancestry, Julie they have contacted Shoshone Elder and Wind River Tribal Court Judge, Richard Farris.

“It’s really interesting to get both points of view,” Julie said. “On one hand you have the Native American sense of deep respect, which asks that you keep the remains in their sacred burial place. On the other hand, you have the scientific approach, which wants to find out more about who these people were. I respect and appreciate the opinions of both sides.”

Julie is hoping (along with many others) that these people will provide more information about Wyoming’s history.

“Maybe there is something we missed,” she said.

Due to the probable way the bodies were situated (because of the digging, it is nearly impossible to tell at this point), Morrell said the archeologists and specialists they have spoken with have come up with several theories.

One theory is that this site is a re-burial; it is possible that someone found these bones sometime in the past and has reburied them. Another possibility is that these people, following religious beliefs, were placed on a scaffold until only bones remained and then the scaffold was removed. They have also considered bundle burial, where long bones would be placed with long bones, skeletons with skeletons, etc.

“We found a skull fragment with a pelvis directly beneath it,” Julie said. “This makes us think they may not have been lying down in an anatomical position when buried.”

Morrell is sure that these are not the only possibilities, but they do cover the ones they are considering most heavily. She said they hope to know more as they continued excavating the area.

“We are hoping to find more still preserved,” Julie said. “When we get down to the clay layer they are in we’ll hopefully see how they have been lain.”

While the BLM and many other authorities have been contacted, the Morrells will have the final say as to what happens to the bones since they are on private property.

“We could have some difficult choices ahead,” Julie said. “But the experience has been great. It makes me temporarily halt the crazy, hectic life I lead and just concentrate on someone else’s life for a bit; a little deep reflection, I suppose. Jerry and I are simply amazed at this fascinating event in our lives.”

Julie said they are down to a point where they just need manpower so that they can sift through the area and find everything they can. They would greatly appreciate special interest groups or school groups who would like to come help sift through the many layers of soil (they do, however, ask that you not just show up on the property).

For more information about the excavation and aiding the process, please call Julie (307) 231-1217.

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