Human remains found in back yard confirmed Native American

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

More than 75 percent of a human skeleton was recovered from a Sept. 17 site excavation in a homeowner’s back yard. (Photo courtesy of Lake County Coroner’s office)

What started out as a homeowner’s backyard improvement project led to the discovery of Native-American remains that are estimated to be 800-1,000 years old. The identification was made by the physical anthropologist, connected with the Illinois State Museum, as exhibiting known indigenous character traits more so than any other ethnic group in a comparative analysis.

Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper had issued a press release that outlined the sequence of events, stating, “On Sept. 17, at approximately 7:06 p.m., (our) office was contacted by a Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy regarding some skeletal remains found in the back yard of a homeowner in unincorporated Antioch. The homeowner had been digging in the garden, to place a retaining wall, when she found the remains.

Personnel dispatched to the scene confirmed the remains were human, and dispatched their K-9, Bones, for a search of the yard where he uncovered three other sites were remains lay buried. The site was secured, and the next day, an excavation overseen by several agencies recovered nearly 75 percent of the bones, belonging to a single body.

“We’re done there, it’s in unincorporated Antioch and we released the site after the excavation was completed,” said Cooper. “She was building a retaining wall, and came across a human mandible (lower jaw) … she called the police. Being a dentist, I recognized it as human. It was the perfect thing to send me. Gosh, I knew right away.”

After a week of examination by the office’s anthropologist, and law enforcement staff, the bones were forwarded to the Illinois State Museum’s Research and Collections Center, which houses the Human Osteology Laboratory.

“We sent it downstate, and they determined the bones to be a Native American, and the age was put between 800-1,000 years old,” said Cooper. “They also said the individual was a male, between the ages of 20-30 years old.”

When the bones arrived to be examined by the state agency, the actual analysis took one day to complete. “We use a measure of known standards that compared certain features of the skeleton to known traits of Native Americans, African-Americans … different ethnic groups,” said Dawn Bobb, the state’s Physical Anthropologist. “In this case, the identifiable traits were more consistent with Native American than another ethnic group.”

Native American habitation of the Lake County area nearly 200 years ago included the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi tribes congregating around the Fox River and Chain O’ Lakes waterfront lands. Illinois also had its initial evidence of habitation around 10,000 B.C. with the Hopewell tribes, and the Mississippians at Cahokia.

Native-American burial mounds still exist undisturbed and protected in Antioch, Lake Villa, Fox Lake, Round Lake, and by the Van Patten Woods, near Wadsworth.

Native-American remains are periodically uncovered in Lake County, and treated as potential homicides. In April 2016, a child’s skull was discovered in a dilapidated shed in unincorporated Round Lake. Serrated markings on the skull were later determined to be made by animals. Anthropologists identified the item as being more than 100 years old, and belonging to a Native-American child, 7-9 years of age.

In August 2004, the remains of a man, woman, and child were discovered by a Fox Lake couple, while digging a drainage ditch in the front yard of their property. Further examination identified the remains as being Native Americans. A debate ensued shortly afterwards, whether to leave the remains buried at the site, or obtain permits to remove them to the Illinois State Museum.

“These occurrences usually come in waves,” said Bobb. “We have no idea how many people are buried on the landscape. It’s not uncommon. There are remains of Native American, pioneers, settlers … some of them did establish burial grounds, some were just buried in places. It’s not known, people are all over the landscape.”