ISB Special Agents will keep investigating the story of a centuries-old skull donated to Gettysburg

Date: February 20, 2015
Contact: Investigative Services Branch, (202) 379-4761

A skull reportedly found near Gettysburg National Military Park is not that of a Civil War soldier. Smithsonian National Museum photo by D Hurlbert.
A skull reportedly found near Gettysburg National Military Park is not that of a Civil War soldier. Instead, it was that of a young Native American man who lived 700 years ago in Arizona or New Mexico.

Smithsonian National Museum photo by D Hurlbert

ISB Special Agents will keep investigating the story of a centuries-old skull donated to Gettysburg

Mystery persists in the circumstances surrounding the 700-year-old skull of a young Native American man that ended up with supposed Civil War artifacts to be auctioned in Pennsylvania last year. ISB Special Agents assisted Gettysburg National Military Park personnel in the investigation, including locating and interviewing the person who'd placed the skull up for auction.

"There's no evidence that would lead us to believe that there was some kind of fraudulent activity or false claim," said Ed Clark, superintendent of Gettysburg NMP. Furthermore, the skull "had changed hands a number of times before it got to the auction."

The skull was reported to be that of a soldier who'd fought in the Civil War. Accompanying documents stated that it had been found on a Gettysburg-area farm in 1949; fighting had taken place on the farm in 1863, and a barn had been used as a field hospital.

Public outcry at the prospect of auctioning off the remains of a soldier prompted the skull's donation to the Gettysburg Foundation, a private partner of Gettysburg National Military Park.

It was then taken to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to be authenticated by their anthropologists. The park then planned to provide interment with full military honors in the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg.

In reality, the remains are those of a 22- to 25-year-old Native American man who'd lived in the American Southwest in the late 1200s. The skull could not have been buried and found on a farm in Pennsylvania - the weathering and deterioration would have been quite different. Other characteristics from shape to tooth wearing pointed to its true origins; radiocarbon dating revealed its true age.

Though the results of the investigation were unexpected, the park's commitment to proper and respectful treatment of the remains is unchanged. As the park and Gettysburg Foundation personnel determine the best course of action under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), ISB Special Agents will keep the investigation open pending any new leads or further information.

ISB is on the web at www.nps.gov/isb 

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Last updated: December 1, 2015