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Human Bones Found in Laguna Believed to Date to Before 1920 : Anthropology: A Cal State Fullerton expert says the remains could be of a Native American or a homicide victim.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Workers repairing a broken water main here Wednesday unearthed large human bones of a Native American or perhaps a homicide victim buried under the street sometime before 1920, officials said.

The remains discovered so far, which consist of a long, thick femur and more than 60 pieces of a fragmented skull, could also be several centuries old, according to Judy Suchey, a forensic anthropologist from Cal State Fullerton hired by the Orange County coroner to investigate.

“The bones are definitely human,” said Suchey, who has performed such studies for more than 25 years. “They are very large adult bones and probably male, because they’re so robust. In fact, I’m most intrigued by the robusticity. The thickness of the skull is amazing.”

The discovery, in the 100 block of Crescent Bay Drive where homes range in value from $4 million to $5 million and the ocean glistens in the distance, had the whole neighborhood talking.

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“I think it’s neat!” said Brad Frazier, 13, who lives nearby.

“I think it’s really cool!” said Eric Hammond, 12, who, with Frazier, arrived at the scene shortly after the bones were uncovered around 9 a.m. by a pavement company. No clothing or artifacts were immediately found.

Investigators for the Laguna Beach Police Department said the street had not been worked on since 1920, leading them to conclude that the bones date to the early part of this century.

Preliminary indications by Suchey were that the bones are at least that old and possibly much older. She was aided in her search by Tom Collins, a graduate student assistant, who carefully chipped away at the earth surrounding the bones Wednesday afternoon.

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Suchey said the bones may have been those of a Native American. She compared them to similar findings in the county in recent years, particularly in the Aliso Creek area, and conceded that they also could be those of a homicide victim, although there was nothing uncovered to suggest that.

“I’m intrigued by the fact that the bones were found at such a shallow depth,” she said, “and that they’re so huge.”

The bones appear to be quite old, she added, because “they’re mineralized and dense and heavy . . . but other than that, I can’t ascertain much of anything. Knowing that the street hasn’t been worked on since 1920 is a helpful indication.”

By Wednesday evening, Suchey was still hoping to find teeth, which, in a prehistoric human, would reveal “a lot of wear because of the immense amount of grit in their diet. The crowns in such a person would be worn down almost completely.”

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“If the bones were those of an American Indian, they may well date back hundreds of years. But from 1850 on, they could be from a variety of different peoples. However, they’re almost certainly not from a person of (Asian) extraction, because the bones are so large . . . so robust.”

Police said that when workers discovered the bones, the skull was still intact but quickly fragmented into dozens of tiny pieces as they passed it around, trying to figure out what it was.

“We don’t have a full skeleton. I’m not sure what we have,” she said. “We’re not making assumptions about anything. In this business, you can’t. We don’t really know what we have.”


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