Workers excavating for a new retaining wall in Deadwood's Presidential District this morning unearthed what could be one of the city's first burials.
Shortly before 9:30 a.m., a crew using a backhoe on the corner of Jackson and Taylor Streets spotted what appeared to be a human skull embedded in the hillside. Terri Bruce, an archaeologist who was monitoring the digging, confirmed the find and ordered a halt to the construction work.
It's the first time that Bruce, who works for the South Dakota State Archaeological Research Center, has personally observed the discovery of human remains while monitoring an excavation. Nevertheless, she wasn't surprised.
"We were watching carefully, because we knew this was the old Ingleside Cemetery," Bruce explained.
That intersection was at the heart of Deadwood's first cemetery from 1876 to approximately 1878. That's when city fathers began moving the burials in Ingelside, as it was then called, further up the hill to make way for residential development. The most famous reburial was that of Wild Bill Hickok, who is now interred in Mount Moriah Cemetery.
"It's fairly normal when a cemetery is moved that not all the bodies go with it," noted Rose Fosha, a senior archaeologist at the SARC. "A few always get left behind."
Kevin Kuchenbecker, Deadwood's historic preservation officer, was on-site following the discovery with his staff and members of the city's historic preservation commission.
"This just reinforces why we have archaeological guidelines," he told the commissioners, referring to a civic mandate that requires the presence of a certified archaeologist during excavation work in city limits. In this case, the ordinance meant that Bruce was on-site and able to halt the digging.
After Bruce confirmed the discovery, she contacted local law enforcement, who concluded that the site was not a crime scene.
"The police have to evaluate the site, anytime there's a body found," Bruce said. "But it's pretty evident it's not a crime scene."
Archaeologists were already excavating the site at about 11:45 a.m. The skull, fractured by the construction crew before its discovery, was clearly visible. Dark lines in the earth, extending away from the skull above and below it, could be the remains of a wood coffin, Bruce said.
Excavation will continue throughout the afternoon. Fosha said that once the bones are extracted, they will be sent to a lab to determine the race, sex and approximate age of the individual.
"It looks pretty complete, but we don't know how much we have," Bruce said. "The condition of the bones is questionable. They've been in the ground so many years. We're just not sure how much information we'll get from them."
Editor's Note: On-site archaeologists requested that photographs of the remains not be used, citing cultural sensitivity and the relative recency of the burial. Deadwood Magazine has deliberately chosen photos that obscure the remains.