November 29, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 38

Stikine skull could be carbon dated

A skull found near the mouth of the Stikine River in October may require radiocarbon date testing to determine if it came from a Native Alaskan.

The cranial section of a skull found by Vena Stough last month on Government Slough may be dated soon courtesy of radio carbon testing. Stough found the skull fragment on Oct. 5 during a hunting and fishing trip.

The skull, which was discovered by Wrangellite Vena Stough while hunting near Government Slough on Oct. 5, was first turned over to the Wrangell Police Department, who then handed it over to the Tongass National Forest supervisor’s office in Petersburg.

According to Forest Service anthropologist Jane L. Smith, the office of the Alaska State Medical Examiner was unable to determine, after reviewing photos of the skull, a number of factors that gives clues as to its origin.

“We are going to approach the skull and treat it as if it were Native at this point,” Smith said. “It is going to be approached under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.”

A letter from Wrangell District Ranger Bob Dalrymple to Ernie Christian of the Wrangell Cooperative Association informed the tribal office that the racial background of the skull could not be determined by photographic analysis – and that more scientific methods of research might be the next course of action.

“A specialist from the Office of History and Archaeology examined the photographs,” Dalrymple’s letter states. “Definitive information regarding the time of death, racial affinity or sex of the individual could not be reached.”

The age of the skull, however, could be hinted at with proper study, Dalrymple stated.

“The degree of ectocranial suture closure suggests the individual to be in his or her 40s at the time of death,” the letter states. “Since the antiquity of the skull could not determined, we, in consultation with you on November 2, 2012 decided it would be appropriate to have radiocarbon analysis performed on a fragment of the skull.”

The Act requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return items of cultural interest to Native Americans and affiliated Indian tribes.

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