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Anthropologist may get involved after skull found at construction site

An Indiana State University Anthropologist may ask to be present for all future digs at a construction site. This comes after workers found a human skull there on Thursday.

Posted: Jan. 12, 2018 6:44 PM
Updated: Jan. 12, 2018 7:12 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - An anthropologist will soon be, if he's not already, in possession of the human skull found at the former ICON building on Thursday.

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CORE Redevelopment hopes to meet with Dr. Shawn Phillips and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources over the weekend or early next week.

CORE spokesman Eric Seal told News 10 crews working on drainage lines made the discovery. Once they found the skull, all work at the site stopped. CORE says it reached out immediately to the DNR, the state agency charged with looking after all burial site in the state.

"Disturbing a cemetery or grave is not permitted," said former Vigo County Coroner Dr. Roland Kohr, who's also a forensic pathologist in Terre Haute. "It's against the law."

He's referring to the fact the old ICON building is located next to the Indian Orchard Cemetery. According to the Vigo County Historical Society, it's Terre Haute's first cemetery.

Kohr says the last burial there took place in 1839. Records at the historical society show the city stopped using the cemetery the following year when construction started on the Wabash and Eric Canals.

Records from the Historical Society show the cemetery was also referred to as the Old Indian Orchard Burial Ground. It was the final resting place of some Revolutionary War veterans. Anyone buried here was to be moved to Woodlawn Cemetery.

With all of that said, Seal told News 10 it didn't really surprise anyone at CORE that a human skull was found at that site. Seal says if the anthropologist wants to be present for future digs at the site, the company is happy to accommodate him and the DNR.

"Part of the problem is without expertise, such as someone who is a forensic anthropologist, we don't know if those bones have been in the ground for 150 years or 5 years or a year-and-a-half," Kohr said. 

Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse confirmed to News 10 his department suspects no foul play in regards to the newly discovered skull. Dr. Kohr said he submitted pictures of the skull to a DNR representative. 

"Once she looked at those, she was of the opinion they were older remains," Kohr said.

The Vigo County Historical Society also provided to News 10 an Indian legend regarding the Indian Orchard Cemetery. It reads as follows:

"Indian legend speaks of a romantic legend between Nemo, a Shawnee Brave, and Lena, a white girl kidnapped by Native Americans. In 1763 a treaty required Native Americans to be returned to their parents. Vowing to return one year hence to ask for Lena's hand in marriage, the two wed and returned to Lena's former home along the Wabash River (Wah-Bah-Shik-Ki).

Legend tells of an attack by five Miami warriors in a canoe stealthily approaching Nemo and Lena. Nemo was killed by a Miami arrow, and Lena in her grief tossed her infant son to a Miami warrior and plunged a knife into her own heart.

Legend says the boy grew to be a warrior and upon learning of his origin left the Miami, joined a Shawnee tribe and became a close companion of Tecumseh, himself dying at the Battle of Thames."

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