WALLA WALLA — A partial human skull found Tuesday on the Snake River may be Native American, according to officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The human remains were found by a family looking for clams in nearly five feet of water on the Snake River upstream from Ice Harbor Dam, according to Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office reports.
Deputies contacted former Walla Walla County Coroner Stephen Ames, who identified the bone fragments as a human skull, and recommended the Sheriff’s Office contact anthropologists.
Alice Roberts, chief of tribal relations and cultural resources for the Corps, said the remains were discovered on what would have been the shoreline of the river before Ice Harbor Dam was built.
“No firm determination of Native American origin has been made,” Roberts said this morning. “Because of the context it is likely.”
Roberts said she has spoken with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and will notify other regional Native American governing bodies this morning.
The remains will then be examined by a physical anthropologist at a regional university for further identification and age, a process Roberts said could take several months.
Following a recommendation by physical anthropologists, the Corps make a final determination about the origin of the remains and whether they are to be turned over to local tribes.
“It is a sensitive issue for the tribes,” said Bruce Henrickson, public affairs officer for the Corps. “Wherever these bones came from, they’re somebody’s family. At the Corps, we’re sensitive to that.”
The Corps is not releasing the exact location of the discovery and warned that removing artifacts from federal lands is a felony offense.
“The sites (in the Tri-Cities area) historically were heavily looted,” Roberts said.
Added Henrickson: “We have an ongoing concern about unauthorized excavation of cultural sites.”
Joe Saxon, the Corps’ chief spokesman for the Walla Walla District, said the family that discovered the remains took the appropriate action by notifying local law enforcement. Saxon added it is important for law enforcement to determine if any human remains are part of a crime scene.
“When (people) remove bones they are possibly disturbing a crime scene,” Saxon said.
Luke Hegdal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8326.