A human skull thought to have been a Civil War soldier’s turns out to be older — much older.
Scientists determined that the remains, which were nearly sold at an auction last year, were those of a Native American man, aged 22–25, who likely lived around 1269–1299 in the American Southwest.
The skull’s previous owner claimed it was from the Battle of Gettysburg while preparing to auction it off in June 2014, along with other artifacts supposedly from that era.
But concerned citizens condemned the auction as a disrespectful “spectacle” that was not treating the skull with basic decency, and the auction was canceled.
Instead, the items were donated to the Gettysburg National Military Park, which asked the Gettysburg Foundation, a restoration nonprofit, to accept the skull on its behalf.
Upon request, a team of forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History examined the cranium and determined that the skull had not been removed from the Josiah Benner farm at Gettysburg, as previously thought.
In fact, the skull had a different origin story entirely, according to the experts.
The foundation and the park are working together to ensure that the skull is disposed of appropriately, adhering to the requirements of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This law requires federal agencies to return historical Native Americans cultural items to their lineal descendants or cultural affiliations.
“This result is not what we expected, but we stand by our commitment to be respectful of these remains, fulfill our responsibilities, and find the best course of action for their final resting place," Gettysburg National Military Park superintendent Ed Clark said in press release.
Special agents and law enforcement rangers from the park and National Park Service are still investigating the provenance of the remains.
A number of the other artifacts from the intended auction were also found to have been from other eras.