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Expert not surprised that centuries-old bones were found in residential location

Adrien Hannus hasn't visited the 600 block of Roselander Road where an attempted house addition resulted in the discovery Monday of human remains estimated to be 700-800 years old, but he does know a thing or two about archaeology.

Adrien Hannus hasn't visited the 600 block of Roselander Road where an attempted house addition resulted in the discovery Monday of human remains estimated to be 700-800 years old, but he does know a thing or two about archaeology.

Hannus, a professor of anthropology and director of the Archeology Laboratory at Augustana College, has nearly 40 years of archeological experience.

In his opinion, it's not surprising that bones were found in the location. Although authorities will not release the exact address, piles of dirt and police cars could be seen behind the residence at 601 Roselander Road in Mitchell this week.

That the location would be home to human remains makes sense to Hannus, as it sits atop a bluff not far from Firesteel Creek.

Such locations were common for some people to bury their dead, leaving a mound of dirt on top to denote the area of burial, Hannus said.

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"The prehistoric people tended to build these mounds on high bluffs usually above drainage systems," Hannus said. "There could be some additional pits just like these."

More than 500 years ago, people in the area generally treated the dead by letting the bodies decompose above ground -- on scaffoldings or hanging from trees, for example -- and then collecting the remaining bones and skulls and burying them in a pit, Hannus said.

"I suspect that's what they're digging into over there," Hannus said.

Hannus has long been affiliated with the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, a site farther up Firesteel Creek near present-day Lake Mitchell, where there was a settlement of American Indians more than 1,000 years ago. Hannus said he does not know if the remains found this week are related to that settlement.

There's been no official word on exactly what kind or how many bones have so far been recovered from the site. So far, human remains and a scraping tool have been found, according to Michael Fosha, assistant state archaeologist for the South Dakota State Historical Society.

Detective Lt. Don Everson, of the Mitchell Department of Public Safety, said construction work will likely resume at the site once archaeologists have completed their work.

Now that the remains have been discovered, Hannus suggests landowners in the area consider bringing in an archaeologist to study the land before beginning any construction, thus preventing future complications.

The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return American Indian remains and artifacts to their respective people.

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"If you're planning some kind of construction, it might be the better part of wisdom and valor to have someone come out and inspect it before construction begins," Hannus said from his office in Sioux Falls. "If we were given some kind of heads-up in an area where there was some kind of known discoveries having been made in the past, you might go at it and do some investigations prior to the project."

Hannus said a common misconception about archaeologists is that they're focused on removing artifacts from the earth.

"Archaeologists are not trying to dig things up. We're trying to locate where materials would be and then have those materials avoided," Hannus said. "What we're trying to do is document where there are sites and then avoid those sites to protect them in perpetuity for everybody.

"People really don't want to intrude into cemeteries. It's everybody's heritage."

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