Angels Camp police and tribal leaders in Calaveras County are probing a construction site where a Murphys man claims to have found a human skull that he was arrested for possessing last month.
Debra Grimes, tribal cultural resource specialist for the Calaveras Band of Mi-Wuk Indians, said she found pieces of other Native American cultural artifacts during an initial examination of soils taken from the Angels Camp construction site Monday morning, but no other human remains have been found so far.
“We still have other soils to review that have been transported to other locations,” Grimes said. “A lot of the soils have been totally impacted from the project, unfortunately.”
Grimes declined to publicly disclose the location of the construction site until the remaining soils can be examined out of concern about looting or further disturbance of the area.
The Angels Camp Police Department issued a news release Monday afternoon stating the site was cordoned off and all construction work has stopped until it can be determined if the location is a Native American burial site.
Angels Camp Police Chief Todd Fordahl could not be reached for comment Monday.
Joshua Caine Davis, 41, of the 1500 block of Old Frankie Mine Road in Murphys, was arrested on Nov. 22 after Angels Camp police officers searched his vehicle during a traffic stop and found the skull stuffed in a bag in the trunk.
Methamphetamine was also found in the vehicle’s fuel door, according to Angels Camp police.
Davis was charged with a probation violation, driving on a suspended license, possession of methamphetamine and disturbing or removing human remains, all four of which are misdemeanors under California law.
Angels Camp police stated that Davis invoked his Miranda rights and refused to explain how he got the skull. Calaveras County Jail staff said last week that he was released sometime after being booked.
Deputy Coroner Keith Rosa told The Union Democrat on Nov. 28 that the skull had features that led him to believe it was a Native American who possibly died a century ago or more.
The skull was to be sent to a forensic anthropologist at University of California, Santa Cruz, for confirmation of the approximate age, sex and ethnicity, which could take six to eight months.
Angels Camp police served a search warrant at Davis’ home on Friday with the help of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and Calaveras County Probation Department.
During the search, Davis allegedly told investigators that he found the skull at the construction site in question.
Investigators also seized additional bones, several cell phones, and electronic devices from Davis’ home, as well as weapons and ammunition that he’s prohibited from possessing.
The news release stated the additional bones discovered Friday don’t appear to be human remains, but further investigation will be conducted to determine their origin.
Calaveras County Code Enforcement was also contacted and responded to Davis’ home for alleged code violations, including numerous vehicles, building code violations and people inhabiting parked travel trailers on the property.
Davis was booked into Calaveras County Jail again on Friday, this time on suspicion of a felony probation violation, felony unlawful possession of ammunition and a misdemeanor tear gas weapon violation.
He remained in custody at the jail Monday awaiting a court appearance scheduled for today, according to jail staff.
Meanwhile, Grimes said she’s consulted with Fordahl, the Calaveras County Coroner’s Office, and the developer of the project that’s under construction at the site where Davis said he found the skull.
Some of the other Native American artifacts that Grimes said she found in soil from the construction site included handstones and pieces of ground stone.
Grimes said she determined that a cultural resources survey of the site was not conducted prior to construction that possibly could have prevented the ordeal, but didn’t want to elaborate further because she wasn’t sure why the project was exempt from doing the survey.
“We have a really wonderful relationship with the City of Angels Camp and Calaveras County Planning Commission,” Grimes said. “I went through the files, and sometimes things do slip through our fingers.”
Grimes said part of the surveying work would have involved looking at past surveys completed within a half-mile radius, which would have shown the locations of known village areas in the vicinity of the project itself.
The purpose of doing such a survey ahead of time isn’t to delay or prevent development projects, Grimes said, but to protect the historical integrity of any remains or artifacts found at a site so they can be properly documented, cataloged and preserved if possible.
“That’s why it’s so important for us to make sure these areas are surveyed and reviewed before construction starts so we can do our full investigation to exhume or remove any cultural materials,” Grimes said. “It’s just very unfortunate that didn’t happen this time.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.