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Construction uncovers human remains
Aug 19, 2004 12:00 am
GLADEVILLE — State and local officials are describing the discovery of as many as 40 human remains in the Suggs Creek community Wednesday as a potentially significant archaeological find.
For the second time in the space of a month, human remains have been uncovered in Wilson County, but this time more questions are being raised about their origin.
The remains of an estimated 40 individuals were found in the Suggs Creek area during a home construction, officials said. State archaeologists were on the scene Wednesday looking for clues to the origin of the bones and artifacts found, which are estimated to be at least 3,500 to 4,000 years old.
"We didn't know about it until today," said Nick Fielder, director of the state's Division of Archaeology. "It was an unrecorded site."
Fielder said he received an anonymous telephone call Tuesday night suggesting investigators be sent to the site because the builder apparently uncovered human remains.
Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe said the site isn't a crime scene, but added he and state officials need to ask the homeowner plenty of questions about his plans for the site. Anthony Mitchell of Mt. Juliet owns the property
"That gravesite could be somewhere between 3,500 to 4,000 years old," Ashe said. "There are between 30 and 60 graves. This could be a major site, but it already has been damaged. This could be a major archaeological find, but it could also be a major problem for the homeowner."
Ashe indicated some human bones were visible in the concrete poured for the home's foundation. After inspecting the site with WCSD Detective Ricky Knight and two state archaeologists, Ashe said investigators carried away a bagful of bones to do further research.
Ashe said state officials on the scene indicated the site could take three or four months to fully excavate.
Archaeologist Mike Moore, who was one of the state officials on the scene Wednesday, said the site is a classic setting for a native American encampment. He said while the homebuilder may eventually be able to complete the house currently under construction, it may take a while.
"There are legal ways of removing human remains," Moore commented.
Ashe said Mitchell will likely have to "jump through hoops" to legally get the job completed. Fielder agreed, adding he expects to meet with the property owner within the next few days to discuss options are for the site.
"There's a lot of people who want to talk to the homeowner now," Fielder said. "He had a legal obligation to notify local law enforcement. Anytime a person finds human remains on a building site, they must stop and notify the authorities."
But the question of notifying authorities about the human remains is not the only question the homeowner may have to answer. Ashe and Fielder noted there is some question about whether Mitchell's lack of a building permit requires investigating.
A call to the Wilson County building inspector, however, revealed Mitchell may have been in compliance with all county rules and regulations.
Wilson County Building Inspector Kathy Dedmon said Mitchell did come in an apply for a building permit and told the property is on a flood plain.
"He has applied for the permit but he can't get it until the information comes in on the flood plain," she continued. "He has to have a surveyor go out there and determine where the floor will be, how high it needs to be, etc. … We have contacted the owner. We are aware of it, and we have gone out and put a 'no work' (order) on it."
Fielder said preliminary study has revealed the site was likely once home to Native Americans.
"From what we can tell so far, the site is about 4,000 years old," he said. "We found spear points, broken stone tools and other artifacts which will give us clues. It was a campsite and the Indians at that time would bury their dead in their campsites.
"These turn up frequently on construction sites," he added. "Several of the Native American groups are sensitive about having photographs of their ancestors on television or in the newspaper, and although there is no legal prohibition against putting the pictures out there, it is something that is part of their belief system. They believe it is insensitive to photograph remains, but this is a fairly new development."
In the July 29 edition of The Lebanon Democrat, a photograph appeared depicting Ashe holding the human skulls found on a rural south county road. Those remains were determined to be part of a private collection of artifacts.
A telephone call to Mitchell was not returned as of press time.
Staff Writer Corinne Galeano can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.