(Received 19 March 1999; accepted 25 June 1999)
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In late June 1990, the Mono County Sheriff's Department in Bridgeport, CA contacted the Physical Anthropology Human Identification Laboratory (PAHIL) at California State University, Chico to seek assistance in the identification of a recently discovered skull.
To assist with possible identification, the cranium received a classic physical anthropological/morphological analysis to suggest the decedent's sex, age at death, ancestral affiliation, and uniqueness. It was concluded the cranium was that of an older male, and someone with mixed ancestry, probably Native American/White. Suggested uniquenesses were an eroded and greasy texture, with adhering white sand, evidence of healed antemortem nasal fractures, and a bifid left occipital condyle.
The cranium was confiscated from a man suspected of vandalizing a Native American cemetery just south of the community of Lee Vining. The cemetery was established in the mid-1800's by local Native American tribes. Although ownership of the land was disputed by the US Forest Service (the Inyo National Forest), and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), county authorities claimed that because the incident involved the desecration of a cemetery and human remains, it was a legal issue, and therefore, the Sheriff's Department had jurisdiction over the case if not the land.
The suspect pled guilty to the possession of Native American remains but claimed not to have desecrated a grave. Over the next year and a half, members of the Native American community representing various tribes sought the return of the cranium, while also seeking assurance that it belonged to the vandalized grave. While county, US Forest Service, and LADWP officials continued to argue over whom had jurisdiction of the remains the superior court judge ordered the county to pay for any analysis necessary to determine if the cranium belonged to the decedent in question. This report addresses the conclusions of that analysis and the disposition of the case. Furthermore, the report addresses the forensic value to Native Americans of the continued study of a wide variety of human skeletal remains.
Professor of Physical Anthropology, California State University, Chico, CA
Former undergraduate, California State University, Chico, CA
Stock #: JFS14713J