Michael Unell’s construction workers had dug down about 4 feet in a parking lot near downtown on March 15 when they hit something hard.
“The guys just started seeing some stuff,” Unell said. “It didn’t take long to find out what it was.”
It was a skull and bones. An anthropologist from the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office “very quickly confirmed that it was human,” Unell said.
Although investigators wouldn’t answer questions from the Star-Telegram this week, indications are that Unell’s crew may have unearthed Native American remains.
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Last week, the medical examiner’s office filed a “cemetery notice” with the Tarrant County clerk’s office “to protect the property” because other bones were found in the area in 1901, said Ashley Fourt, a spokeswoman for the civil division of the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.
Fourt said investigators are “pretty sure this isn’t a recent homicide” but emphasized that an official determination won’t be made until the medical examiner completes tests.
Fort Worth homicide detectives were called to the scene last week, but they, too, are waiting to hear what the medical examiner’s forensic analysts say, a police spokesman said.
The medical examiner’s office declined to comment to the Star-Telegram.
According to a 1949 Star-Telegram article, in 1901, a Native American burial ground was found at the corner of Lexington and West Bluff streets, two blocks north of where the bones were found last week,
Excavators in 1901 found three skeletons, arrow points, a package of vermilion, a stone pipe, a 16-inch knife, small white beads and a mirror set in an iron frame, according to the article.
Unell’s crew was digging a hole for a light pole in a parking lot at the corner of Lexington and Weatherford Streets. Workers hit the bones 49 inches down.
“Playing the odds, it’s probably prehistoric remains, because there were Indians here for thousands of years,” said Jonathan Jarvis, associate director of the Texas Archaeological Research Library in Austin.
Reid Ferring, an archeology professor at the University of North Texas, said Native Americans first came to the Fort Worth area about 13,000 years ago. Within the last few hundred years, the Wichita, Comanche and Caddo would have been the main tribes in the area, Ferring said.
The cemetery notice prevents workers from digging near the hole where the bones were found until the investigation is complete, which is fine with Unell.
“We’re just going to sit tight and wait for them to tell us what we can do and what they want to do,” Unell said.
“If it is truly a Native American grave site, I feel a responsibility to reach out to that community.”