Human remains found at the construction site for the new Bartholomew County Court Services Center are estimated to be so old that they predate the county’s founding.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the bones are "ancient or ancestral in nature" and 2,000 to 3,000 years old, said Redevelopment Director Heather Pope.
"The remains weren’t all laid out in a nice skeletal pattern," she told the Columbus Redevelopment Commission on Monday. "They are believed to be at least three different portions of three different individuals — an adult male, a preteen and a baby.”
She added that certain markings are indicators that the bones are likely Native American.
Both human and animal bones found at the construction site were removed for analysis at the University of Indianapolis a few weeks ago.
"Once that analysis is complete, they (the remains) will be turned over to Native American tribes for respectful reburial," said Rachel Sharkey, a research archaeologist with the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. "At this point, the timing and location of the reburial has not been decided.”
Moving forward, a bioarchaeology monitor will be onsite to oversee the digs, watch out for additional human remains and make sure that any discovered remains are handled properly, Pope said.
Based on the placement of the bones and the lack of gravestones, pottery or other such artifacts, it’s believed that the site is not their "original resting place," she said.
Before the Eynon Law Office building was constructed, the site used to have a decline on its back side, so fill was brought in to help elevate the land. It’s believed that the fill and the bones likely came from the same place, but the location of that place is unknown, Pope said.
The bones were discovered in May by construction workers. She said they were digging in the area to create an underground detention basin as part of the approved drainage plan and also found an "active sanitary sewer line" believed to have been installed in the 1940s.
The human bones were found about 6 to 7 feet deep and mixed with animal leg bones from pig and cattle that had been severed by some sort of serrated saw, Pope said in a previous interview.
Sharkey said in May that the animal bones are newer than the human remains, and added that she believed the animal bones to be “historical,” dating from the 1800s to the early 1900s.
Construction on the new court services building continues to move forward, and the building is still set to open in April of 2022, Pope said. If more remains were found, this would delay work but not stop the project.