American Indian skull, bones found at riverside construction site

GRANTS PASS — A skull and bones unearthed at an Evergreen Federal Bank project along the Rogue River are likely American Indian remains.

The bones were found Monday afternoon along the river near what was once known as the Riverside Inn. The area is being landscaped for a riverfront park.

Eirik Thorsgard, cultural protection coordinator for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said that wear of the teeth and facial structure indicate the bones were those of an Indian.

Thorsgard, descendent of Tumwata Indians along the Willamette River, pulled the bones from a plastic bag and inspected them while detectives from Grants Pass Department of Public Safety looked on.

The bone extending along the side of the skull (Zygomatic arch) is wide, and the teeth are worn evenly, evidence of grit in the diet from grinding food, he said.

The person wasn't identified as male or female. Bones from the arms and rib cage were found, but none from the lower body.

Tool-making rock fragments also were found. The person died within the past 1,000 years, but most likely within the last 200 to 300 years, Thorsgard said.

"There's no way to know without radiocarbon dating," he said.

Because much of the site has been dug up already, it's unlikely that more remains will be found, Thorsgard said.

"Because it is likely a single set of remains, Evergreen will be able to move forward with the project," Thorsgard said.

"We're going to cooperate to the fullest," said Jorge Sotelo, Evergreen representative at the scene.

Evergreen President Brady Adams had to attend another function during the bone inspection.

Thorsgard said the remains would most likely be reburied on the same property, but could end up at a secure location at Siletz or Grand Ronde. He said Evergreen has offered a site.

Detective Sgt. Dennis Ward said the criminal investigation is over.

The bones were found about 4 feet underground, near a sewer and water line and next to the foundation of the Riverside Inn which used to occupy the spot.

Work has been going on for two years, and Monday's discovery was the first of its kind.

"We've been watching for any historical elements, and had found nothing," Adams said.

The site is about halfway between Caveman Bridge and the Taprock Northwest Grill, the restaurant expected to open in May. That area is being landscaped now for a riverfront park, part of Adams' plan to make Grants Pass the "best river town in America." Handling of American Indian remains is governed by the National Historical Preservation Act and numerous state laws, Thorsgard said.

Jeff Duewel is a reporter for the Grants Pass Daily Courier.

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