By AMY LINDBLOM
A Native American skull stuffed with newspaper and wrapped in a plastic bag was found in bushes in the Pinecrest area Saturday.
Found by three Riverbank men out hiking, the skull believed to be at least 50 years old and taken from a gravesite will likely be given to the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk and buried according to tribal customs.
The skull was found after Eric Reynolds, 18, saw a gray plastic bag stuffed into a nook in a lava rock. He pulled the bag out, but when he saw a human skull inside, he and his friends "freaked out," they later told authorities, tossed it away and drove home.
The next day, the men notified the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department. Deputy Rob Lyons drove to the area and found the skull.
The exact location is being withheld. It will be thoroughly searched for other remains.
Lyons found the skull, stuffed with old, yellowed newspapers that had fallen into shreds making them unreadable. Lyons took the skull to Lt. John Steely, the county chief deputy coroner.
Steely recognized the skull as being that of a Native American, based on the facial structure, and old because the skull was badly discolored and the teeth had no fillings.
Steely sought a second opinion from anthropologist Sari Miller-Antonio from California State University, Stanislaus. She confirmed Wednesday that the skull was of a Native American male, and is old.
"The skull was clearly Native American based on the facial features and the teeth," Miller-Antonio said. "Native Americans ate food that was high in grit and it wears away the teeth in a certain way."
She also said the skull was likely much older than 50 years.
Because the skull was found in the Stanislaus National Forest, Forest Service archeologist Kathy Moskowitz will keep the skull until it can be returned to the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk. Following federal protocol based on the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, there is a 45-day notification and waiting period before the tribe can reclaim it.