Calaveras County coroners believe a human skull found by Angels Camp police during a traffic stop late last Wednesday could be the remains of a Native American who died a century ago.
Deputy Coroner Keith Rosa said the skull will be sent to a forensic anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for further analysis to determine the person’s sex, ethnicity and approximate age.
“That process will probably take six to eight months depending on the caseload,” Rosa said.
There were certain details observable on the skull that indicate the remains are of a Native American from around that era, Rosa said, though he was withholding the specifics to protect the integrity of the investigation.
Rosa said there weren’t any signs of foul play.
“It appears to have been in a vault, or buried in the earth,” Rosa said. “It doesn’t have the typical bleaching from the sun that it would have if it was exposed.”
Angels Camp police pulled over a vehicle about 11:30 p.m. last Nov. 22 after the driver failed to stop at the limit line of a stop sign, according to a press release, which doesn’t provide the exact location.
The front passenger at the time of the stop had been seen driving the vehicle earlier by an Angels Camp police officer, the press release stated.
After initially refusing to identify himself, the passenger was later identified as Joshua Caine Davis, 41, of the 1500 block of Old Frankie Mine Road in Murphys, whose license was suspended, police said.
A bag in the trunk containing a human skull and methamphetamine in the fuel door were found during a search of the vehicle before it was towed, the press release stated.
Davis was arrested and booked into Calaveras County Jail on suspicion of a probation violation, driving on a suspended license, drug possession and disturbing or removing human remains, all of which are considered misdemeanors.
Jail booking logs cited the location of Davis’ arrest at Murphys Grade Road and Gardner Lane in Angels Camp.
Calaveras County jail staff said Davis was no longer in custody, though the Sheriff’s records department could not be reached for the time and details surrounding his release
Angels Camp Police Chief Todd Fordahl could not be reached Tuesday for an update on the investigation.
Chadd Everone, deputy of the California Valley Miwok Tribe based in Sheep Ranch, said there are ancient American Indian remains throughout the region. The University of California has maps of the burial grounds, but only provides them for scholarly research to protect the sites.
Everone said the oldest remains found in the area date back 15,000 years ago.
“Normally, Indians do not like their remains transferred to a museum and want them reinterred,” Everone said.
For example, Everone said tribal leaders are sometimes contacted by Caltrans when remains are found during road work. He added that most don’t mind roads going over them because it provides protection.
There are also federal protections for Native American remains.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act enacted by U.S. Congress in 1990 requires federal agencies and organizations that receive federal funding to return Native American cultural items, which includes human remains, to the lineal descendants and culturally affiliated tribes.
The act also makes trafficking Native American remains without right of possession a crime punishable upon first offense by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Stanley Cox, cultural resources director for the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, said a skull was found in Little Sweden in Tuolumne County years ago, but the tribe mostly receives bones found on federal land.
Cox said people who find artifacts such as mill stones or bone fragments on their private property aren’t required to tell the tribe, but the tribe will arrange to retrieve them if they do.
The tribe will typically find a spot to bury the remains either where they were originally located or in designated burial areas, Cox said.
For anyone who comes across Native American remains, Cox said the best thing is to leave them where they found them and call the Sheriff’s coroner.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.