The mystery of the human bones found in a crawlspace under Julia Randall Elementary School continues to unravel with the determination by the Arizona State Museum that they are most likely prehistoric.
The fact that local resident Duane Kaufman admitted he took the bones from a Main Street back yard in 1963 and hid them in the crawlspace under the school's Rock Building helped the museum date them, museum official John Madsen said.
"If it were just the observations of an osteologist, we would have no way of determining whether it's prehistoric or historic," Madsen said. "Without context, meaning not knowing where they came from out of the ground, and from the very few parts that we have, it would be hard to determine if they were historic or prehistoric -- although there were definitely old."
Kaufman, who was in the seventh grade when he dug the bones out of local weather observer Anna Mae Deming's back yard and took them to JRE, said he and his friends found several arrowheads and pottery sherds when they originally dug the bones up.
Kaufman's family moved to the Rim country in 1959, and he grew up in a house next door to Deming on Main Street. He found the bones sticking out of the ground one day when he took a shortcut through her back yard.
"The gentleman claimed that's what happened, so that's a firsthand account," Madsen said. "We have no reason to doubt him. The context (in which human remains are found) is usually one where you've got associated funerary objects -- pottery or stone -- that help with identification. It's obviously pre-historic."
Kaufman, along with two buddies -- Sambo Haught and Bruce Mercer -- hid the bones so they could scare girls and younger students by taking them down into the dungeon-like basement that leads to the crawlspace. School authorities quickly caught on and stopped the practice, but the bones were apparently left in the crawlspace and forgotten.
The bones only recently came to light when a plumber, looking for a place to run pipes, stumbled upon the skeletal remains as he shined a flashlight through a small opening into the crawlspace. Police were summoned and local archeologist Penny Minturn was asked to investigate the site.
The bones, about one-third of a full skeleton including part of the skull, were sent to a museum, which is located at the University of Arizona in Tucson, to be examined and dated. Lead fragments were also recovered from the crawlspace, leading authorities to consider the possibility that foul play could be involved.
"We got a call (as required) under state law from (Minturn) notifying us that she had discovered human remains," Madsen said. "I was in the (Payson) area and we brought them here and gave them to our osteologist and he checked them out."
Now that the remains have been positively identified as pre-historic, the two Native American tribes that claim affiliation with them -- the Hopis and Zunis -- will be notified.
"Now that we believe they are probably from a pre-historic grave, we can safely contact those two tribes," Madsen said. "We'll ask them their opinion on what they want done, and we'll probably repatriate them to one of them."
Deming had asked that the bones be returned to her property, but Madsen says state law prohibits that.
"I know from the end of the (Payson Roundup) article that Mrs. Deming would like them back," he said. "The problem is they can't be protected there."
ARS 41-865 protects all remains, Native American or otherwise, that are 50 years old or older.
For more information on that statute and the work of the museum, its website address is www.statemuseum.arizona.edu.