By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Human remains found by two children playing in the desert hills in northwestern Arizona last year are believed to be that of an American Indian man who lived about 1,800 years ago, a local anthropologist said on Wednesday.
Giving an approximate date to the largely complete skeletal remains, which were recovered in an area southeast of Colorado City, was only accomplished recently, said Amy Kelly-McLaughlin, the anthropologist who examined them. She specializes in vertebrate forensic taphonomy, the study of ancient remains.
But the Flagstaff, Arizona-based Kelly-McLaughlin, who was hired by the Mohave County Medical Examiner's Office to find out more about the remains, said the results validate her initial impression.
"The minute I opened the box with the bones I knew it was prehistoric," she said in a phone interview. "There was just no doubt in my mind that it is."
She said the remains, which belonged to a man whose age at death was unclear, were well-preserved and represented about 85 percent of the body. They displayed classic prehistoric signs that included deeply stained bones from the sediment in the ground and severely decayed teeth.
"What we have is an adult male who passed away at some point and the people he was with buried him long, long ago," Kelly-McLaughlin said. "That's a pretty special thing to find."
She said the discovery was unusual but not rare, adding that she is asked to examine remains that turn out to be prehistoric on average every 12 to 18 months.
Mohave County sheriff deputies said the remains were located when the two children were hiking with their mother last November near the polygamous town that straddles the Arizona-Utah border. The youths had stopped and saw bones sticking out of the ground.
"At first they thought they were animal bones," said Trish Carter, a sheriff's office spokeswoman. "But that didn't turn out to be the case."
Authorities were alerted after the group then found what appeared to be a human skull, according to a sheriff's report.
The county Medical Examiner's Office responded to the scene and collected the remains before turning them over to Kelly-McLaughlin for a determination.
She said she plans to contact area tribal officials to find the proper place for the remains so that they can be re-buried. She expects the process to take about a year.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)