Crestone Eagle, May 2005:
Remains of Native American woman found in the Baca
by Maggie Mesinger, Sage House
On Friday, April 8, while excavating in the road easement
on Badger Road in the Baca Grande Grants near Crestone, Ken
Skoglund unearthed the human remains of a Native American
woman whose tribal affiliation is yet undetermined. With the
skeletal bones were two manos and one metate and an animal
bone tool found loose in the dirt. Manos and metates are grinding
stones used to process plants and other materials.
The metate is a large stone slab on which items to be ground
are placed. The mano is a smaller stone that is held in the
hand(s) and moved back and forth over the surface of the metate.
There has been no association made between the human remains
and the grave goods, but the presence of the mano and metate
do reveal something about the food processing practices of
a number of tribes.
The woman was estimated to be older than 30 years at the time
of her death. State Archaeologist Susan Collins indicates
that the bones are estimated to be between 300 and 400 years
old, though a full study has not been conducted. Cultural
affiliation studies will be completed within one year. At
that time, if a preponderance of evidence suggests a tribal
affiliation, the tribe with the preponderance of evidence
can claim the remains. The Native American Graves Protection
and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) governs this process. The National
Park Service posts culturally unidentifiable remains on their
website. Tribes can make claims on remains via a formal letter
from the tribal government.
Colorado Revised Statute 24-80-1302 regulates what must happen
when human remains are discovered. In part, the statute says,
“any person who discovers on any land suspected human
skeletal remains or who knowingly disturbs such remains shall
immediately notify the coroner of the county wherein the remains
are located and the sheriff, police chief, or land managing
agency official.” In this case, Ken Skoglund notified
the Saguache County sheriff of his discovery. The sheriff
notified the County Coroner.
The statute goes on to say, “The coroner shall conduct
an on-site inquiry within forty-eight hours of such notification
to attempt to determine whether such skeletal remains are
human remains, and to determine their forensic value…If
it is confirmed that the remains are human remains but of
no forensic value, the coroner shall notify the state archaeologist
of the discovery. The state archaeologist shall recommend
security measures for the site.”
At this point in the process, Kevin Black, Assistant State
Archaeologist, opened a discussion with Lieutenant Governor
Jane Norton, and Ernest House, Jr., Ute Mountain tribal member
and Executive Secretary of the Colorado Commission on Indian
Affairs. A decision was made to send Colorado Historical Society
staff members Kevin Black and Thomas Carr to the site, along
with Ernest House, Jr. The three worked with very small hand
tools in the trench and through the sand at the bottom and
sides of the trench. They also examined the pile of dirt Skoglund
had removed from the trench.
Additional skeletal bones were removed from the dirt pile,
and a piece of an animal bone tool was found loose in the
dirt. These finds, along with the skeletal pieces collected
earlier, were transported to Denver to be examined by a physical
anthropologist. The men found no evidence that additional
graves exist near this site, nor did they feel that additional
artifacts were likely. As a result, the site has been backfilled.
When I visited the site where the remains were discovered,
I noted how shallow the grave seemed to be. Kevin Black confirmed
that the grave was 52” deep, and that it was in a sand
sheet atop a gravel layer. Sand sheets shift, much like the
dune fields at the Sand Dunes, but not as profoundly. According
to Black, it is likely that the grave went only as deep as
the gravel layer because it would have been difficult to dig
deeper into gravel.
If this story seems like a dispassionate reporting of facts,
it is. Up to this point.
Thank you to everyone who had a part in this story. From Ken
Skoglund, who did all the right things, to Sheriff’s
Deputy Richard Sutton, who acted his role with great respect
and sensitivity, to the state archaeologists, who bring reverence
to their work, to everyone who allowed a process to unfold
as it needed to.
On my visit to the site, I was struck hard by the sense
that there are some things an archaeologist cannot reconstruct.
Those things are personal, delicate, sacred. A story gets
told 300 years or more after the person who lives it draws
her last breath. A culture of people live, struggle, share
meals and bury their dead. Out of the earth comes the voice
of an unintentional author who has a memorable story to tell,
a story that echoes off mountains and sky and earth and us.
The Lakota say, “Mitakuye oyasin maka sitomni, hecitu
welo!”—We are related to everything in the
world, it is indeed so!” I know I am humbled and made
better by the spirit of this woman who lived, as we do, in
a place that nurtures the stories we have come to tell.
As we tell those stories, let’s remember that we are
not the original people. But like them, we can know what it
is to love the land, and to treat it with visible prayer.
Through the ceremony of our own interactions, we can tell
a story that years from now will echo off mountains and sky
and earth and those who have yet to arrive. I will hold that