Sarnia, Ontario, Canada — A Canadian couple who wanted to build a fence unearthed a 400-year-old skeleton in their backyard.
Ken Campbell was digging fence post holes in his backyard when he came across a couple of bones two weeks ago. He put them aside thinking they belonged to an animal until his wife Nicole Sauve asked about them a week later.
“I said, ‘They’re not animal bones, Ken. Let’s dig some more and see what we can find,’”Sauve said.
The couple then dug up the 400-year-old skeleton of an Aboriginal woman, and a forensic anthropologist was called in to examine the site.
Michael Spence told the Toronto Star that he believed the woman was about 24-years-old when she died and that the death probably occurred in the late 1500s or early 1600s. Spence also said that the condition of her teeth seemed to indicated that belonged to a society of hunters, gatherers, and fishers.
Sauve and Campbell live near the Blue Water Bridge, which was once the center of the Ojibwa trade network. Spence believed the aboriginal woman may have been descended from the merchants who lived in the area. In Canada, the Ojibwa are the second-largest population among First Nations, various Aboriginal peoples in the country who are neither Inuit nor Metis, who are of mixed First Nations and European heritage.
Spence determined that there was no foul play involved in the discovery of the skeleton, and the Registrar of Cemeteries was called. Sauve was told she could pay to have an archaeologist brought in to assess the backyard. According to the Star, under Ontario’s Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, property owners are responsible for the costs of an archeological assessment if human remains are found on their land.
Sauve ended up receiving a $5,000 bill for the assessment and has appealed to the mayor of Sarnia to pay the archaeologist. However, she said she heard that the nearby Aamjiwnaang First Nation are raising money to help pay the bill, although she hasn’t been contacted directly.
“I did the right thing by her [the skeleton] … and this is what’s happening,” Sauve said.
Sauve wanted to keep the skeleton, which she named Sephira after her granddaughter, but begrudgingly agreed to have the bones removed and reinterred at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation cemetery. A traditional ceremony was performed for Sephira at Campbell and Sauve’s home, and another ceremony was performed after the skeleton was moved. It now rests in a special section of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation cemetery designated for repatriated remains.
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[Photo courtesy of Nicole Sauve]