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April 19, 2014

19th century skull returned to Band for ceremony

TRAVERSE CITY — One Leelanau County family heirloom will no longer be passed down to the next generation.

Sheriff Mike Borkovich said a family who did not want to be named gave his office a human skull that had been in the family for years. An elderly family member died and younger members didn’t want it, Borkovich said.

A member of the family was a mariner on the Great Lakes and one day stopped at Beaver Island, where a Native American offered him the skull, according to family lore.

“In that era things were done differently,” Borkovich said. “Apparently, he purchased the skull and it was in the family for years and years.”

Borkovich said his department had to treat the skull like evidence, and sent it to a lab at Michigan State University for testing.

“We did not know if that story was true or not,” Borkovich said. “We did not know it wasn’t a 10-year-old skull, for instance.”

Lab tests seemed to support the family’s story. Researchers studied things like the teeth and orbits, or eye sockets, to determine the skull was from the 1800s and belonged to a Native American man over 25 years old, Borkovich said.

He picked the skull up from the lab in East Lansing about two weeks ago and returned it to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians

Band members performed a repatriation ceremony on Friday, Borkovich said.

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