BOISE, Idaho — At least one tribe will seek possession of human bones found protruding from an Idaho badger hole after tests determined they weren’t from modern day homicide victims but belonged to people who lived five centuries ago.
Shoshone-Paiute Tribe Chairman Ted Howard said Thursday that Shoshones have occupied the southwestern Idaho area for thousands of years and the well-preserved bones of a young adult and a 10- to 15-year-old should be returned to the tribe for proper burial.
“We just need to put them back in a place where they will not be disturbed again,” he said.
The fluke discovery occurred on April 15 in high desert sagebrush steppe when an Idaho Department of Fish and Game worker checking the licenses of ground squirrel hunters found the bones on federally owned land about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the small city of Mountain Home.
Elmore County Sheriff Mike Hollinshead said law enforcement officials initially treated the scene as a double homicide until announcing Wednesday tests determined the bones were centuries old. Testing also determined corn had been a significant part of their diets.
“The remains were so well preserved, that’s what made us think it was recent,” he said.
He said carbon dating tests at Beta Analytic Incorporated in Miami, Florida, gave a date-range from the first half of the 1400s to the first half of the 1600s. Hollinshead said those results were so astonishing he sent samples to the University of Arizona, which returned similar results.
Both facilities declined to comment to The Associated Press without permission from Hollinshead, which he said he couldn’t give because he was no longer involved in an investigation and no longer had the bones. He said the age of the bones made spending additional money to try to determine the cause of death unnecessary.
Michael Williamson, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said Hollinshead turned the bones over to that agency and they are being stored in a secure federal facility in Boise. He said the agency is working through a process required by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to return the bones to a tribe. As part of that process, the agency is mailing out formal letters to about a half dozen tribes that might be culturally affiliated with the area where the bones were found.
“It’s a serious matter for both ourselves and the tribes,” Williamson said. “We’re doing everything we can to treat the bones appropriately and give them the respect they deserve.”
The Shoshone-Paiute Tribe’s reservation is in southern Idaho and northern Nevada. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have a reservation in eastern Idaho. Howard said the different names came about in the 1800s when the U.S. government put the tribes on reservations, but the tribes are the same people and might file a joint request for the bones.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes office of public affairs said tribal officials were considering the matter and didn’t have an immediate comment on Thursday.
Howard said that if the tribe gets possession of the bones it won’t do any additional testing. He said it’s not surprising that artifacts weren’t found with the bones, noting people of the era often had few possessions. He said that the young people were buried together didn’t indicate anything in particular or how they might have died.
“Could be skirmishes, illness, accident,” he said. “People can speculate, but nobody knows.”