Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Bones in the Bathroom Volume 53 Number 3, May/June 2000
by Kristin M. Romey

When human remains are found outside of archaeological excavations in the Canadian province of British Columbia, police know the man to call.

Jim Pike is a project officer with the government's archaeology branch, and his office is contacted by the police or medical examiner between 20 and 40 times a year to identify human remains and verify that they are not modern victims. Such finds are commonly reported by hikers and construction workers, he says, but it came as a bit of a surprise when a human skull and mandible appeared in the women's bathroom of a shopping mall in Victoria.

An initial examination of the skull revealed that it was of First Nations ancestry and dates back a couple of hundred years, or to what Pike describes as "time beyond living memory." In a cooperative effort between the local Songhees tribe and the medical examiner's office, a more complete examination was conducted on the remains, the results of which indicated that the skull most likely belonged to an amerindian female who was over 45 when she died. She had once been stabbed twice in the skull with a blade, but survived the injury, and the extreme wear on her back teeth indicated that she had often chewed tough materials. While there was no evidence that the skull had once been buried, Pike notes that certain tribes in the area often practiced above-ground burial, putting their dead to rest in rock structures, grave houses or canoes. Botanical material found on the skull is consistent with such practices, he added.

The mysterious appearance of the skull in the public bathroom "certainly captured the imagination of the public," says Pike, "This is strictly speculation, but I think that the woman [who left the skull] wanted to see that the right thing was done and that the skull was found." He added that the Songhees would like to bury the skull with an appropriate blessing.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America