Kayakers find 8,000-year-old human skull in Minnesota River

The discovery, thought to be a Native American young man, is making headlines this week as Native Americans say published photos are offensive to their culture.

Kayaking in Israel. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Kayaking in Israel.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

On the Minnesota River, about 100 miles west of Minneapolis, two kayakers spotted a human skull last summer, at the time having little idea of the find's significance, US media reported. 

Drought conditions on the river had made the brown bone, discovered along the riverbank, easier to discern, according to multiple sources.  

The pair, concerned that the find could be the remains of a missing person, perhaps in a murder case, reportedly called Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable. Hable told Minnesota Public Radio that the discovery was a "complete shock." 

 Minneapolis. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Minneapolis. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

He recalled to the local radio station bringing the skull over to a medical examiner and eventually to the FBI, where a forensic anthropologist used carbon dating to determine it was likely the skull of a young man who lived between 5500 and 6000 B.C.

The anthropologist reportedly declared the man, thought to be Native American, had a depression in his skull that was “perhaps suggestive of the cause of death," the Associated Press reported. 

While the discovery occurred in September of last year, it's finally making headlines this week following a Facebook post on Wednesday by Hable, who posted photos of the find. His office came under fire by several Native Americans and community leaders, who said publishing photos of ancestral remains was offensive to their culture. Hable has since removed the post and apologized. 

Minnesota Indian Affairs Council Cultural Resources Specialist Dylan Goetsch said in a statement that neither the council nor the state archaeologist were notified about the discovery, which is mandated by state laws that oversee care of Native American remains.

Goetsch said the Facebook post “showed a complete lack of cultural sensitivity” by failing to call the individual a Native American and referring to the remains as “a little piece of history.”

Kathleen Blue, a professor of anthropology at Minnesota State University, said Wednesday that the skull was without question from an ancestor of one of the tribes still living in the area, The New York Times reported.

She said the young man likely did not participate in migration like mammals and bison. Rather, he would have likely eaten a diet of plants, deer, fish, turtles and freshwater mussels locally, Blue told the Times

“There’s probably not that many people at that time wandering around Minnesota 8,000 years ago, because, like I said, the glaciers have only retreated a few thousands years before that,” Blue said. “That period, we don’t know much about it.”