American Indian remains found near Gustine to get proper burial

Residents unearth bones more than 100 years old

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 21, 2013 

— The discovery of American Indian human remains unearthed on Monday will be turned over to an organization that ensures proper burial, the Merced County Sheriff's Department reported Wednesday.

The human skeleton bones were discovered at a burial site in the Gustine area by residents around 9 a.m. Monday, said sheriff's spokesman deputy Delray Shelton. Although the gender is unknown, the remains are more than 100 years old.

It's unclear what tribe they belong to, he added.

Sheriff Mark Pazin said such discoveries are not uncommon in some parts of Merced County, including the Los Banos and Bear Creek areas.

Pazin estimated the department handles the discovery of American Indian bones two or three times a year, usually uncovered in the course of excavation and plowing fields.

"It's really not unique to find remains in certain parts of Merced County," Pazin said. "When we do come across these remains, it's important to properly bury them according to protocols."

Proper protocols include contacting the Native American Indian Commission, which the Sheriff's Department has already done.

On Friday, the commission will pick up the bones, which are being held at the coroner's office. They will then arrange for a proper burial, Shelton said.

Sarah Lim, director of Merced County Courthouse Museum, said some of the American Indian tribes settled near the Merced and San Joaquin rivers.

"The whole valley floor is the area where the Yokuts Indian tribe lived along the waterways," Lim said. "Some of the settlements in Merced County can be found along the Bear Creek."

Archaeologists often find artifacts, such as arrowheads and grinding stones, along those areas, she added.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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