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Solved: Mystery of human bones in Salt Lake City man's floor

Published October 23, 2013 3:57 pm

SLC • Investigators think they belonged to American Indian.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Remember those bones a Salt Lake City man found under his floorboards last May? They finally have an identity, though it's an incomplete picture.

The Utah Department of Heritage and Arts determined the bones mostly likely belonged to an American Indian man who was alive between 1710 and 1910 A.D. — though there is insufficient evidence to link him to any modern tribe. The state's cultural anthropologist also determined that his diet mostly consisted of wild plants and animals, and little to no corn, according to a report released Wednesday.

It is possible the bones may be an Anglo man's, but only a DNA test could confirm that, according to the report.

On May 1, a Salt Lake City homeowner was remodeling his house near 2600 S. Alden St. (1338 East) when he knocked out a section of the basement ceiling, which is also the main-level floor, and found a bag full of the mystery man's bones. The homeowner called the police.

It appears more likely to investigators that he stumbled upon an unmarked grave, not a crime scene.

The turnaround took a few months because not only does analysis take time, there's a growing queue of other remains to get through first. The discovery of old bones is more common than people think, said Geoffrey Fattah, heritage and arts department spokesman, at the time of the discovery. The department receives human remains about twice a month, usually after someone was digging for a water main or power lines.

The Fremont Indians, in particular, buried their dead wherever they died, not in communal graveyards, so people find their remains everywhere from farms to backyards in the Avenues, Fattah said.

If the bones had belonged to an existing American Indian tribe, they would have been handed over to the tribal leaders. Since that's not the case, the state has a dedicated spot for unclaimed native remains.

"Several times a year we ask members of Native American tribes to offer a blessing, [saying] we're sorry we disturbed you, may you rest in peace," Fattah said.

If the bones had not been an American Indian's, they would have been turned over to the county where they were found; the county would then arrange for a publicly funded interment.

The Salt Lake City Police Department and the UDHA stressed that the homeowner did the right thing by immediately calling the police. The placement of the bones can offer clues as to their heritage.

Nothing else, such as pottery or other artifacts, were found with the remains. It is possible the remains were moved from their original spot to another, Fattah said.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda