HANCOCK, Maine — Investigators are looking into the discovery last month of a human skull at a local gravel pit.
Although Detective Alan Brown of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department said the discovery of a human skull, in itself, is suspicious, it appears that the skull was very old and likely came from a nearby grave site.
The skull was discovered on May 28 at a gravel pit off Route 1, Brown said Monday. The man who found the skull, whose name has not been released, was at the gravel pit picking over junk that had been dumped there.
“No one was more surprised than he was,” Brown said. “The skull just rolled down the embankment.”
When the man realized what had just rolled past him, he contacted the sheriff’s department. Brown indicated that they do not suspect foul play.
“Our belief is that it is part of a very old, probably private, cemetery,” he said, “and the embankment around it has been eroding over the years.”
A preliminary examination suggests that the skull belonged to a female and that it had been in the ground for some time, according to Dr. Marcella Sorg, the state forensic anthropologist. During an examination of the site, remnants of a wooden coffin also were found, she said. However, Brown noted that because the area above the gravel pit was so overgrown, their search did not uncover any evidence of a grave site.
It is not uncommon to find human bones near a gravel pit, Dr. Sorg said Monday.
“It is very common in the state of Maine,” she said. “People put family plots where it was easy to dig. Often, those sandy areas also were sites for gravel mining.”
Dr. Sorg has conducted forensic skeletal investigations for the state medical examiner’s office and has a standard procedure she follows, a procedure, she stressed, that has not been done yet.
“We haven’t really looked at it in detail yet,” she said. “We’ll look at it to figure out if it is male or female, how old they were at the time they died and probably ancestry, although that’s not an exact science,” she said.
At this point, there is no indication who the skull may have belonged to, she said, although there may be some information available in the historic records.
This is not the first time bones have been found at the site. In 1991, two skulls slipped into the gravel pit and in 1994, bones and a grave stone were found at the bottom of the pit. According to Hancock town records, further investigation at that time showed that there were three remaining graves at the top of the pit and that three others had fallen into the pit.
According to town Administrative Assistant Stacey Clement, those records show that the site was the location of the Stratton family cemetery, which dates back to the 1800s. Minutes from a selectmen’s meeting in Oct. 1994 indicate that the remains at the site were moved to the Riverside Cemetery.
Meanwhile, the skull remains at Dr. Sorg’s laboratory at the University of Maine in Orono awaiting further examination. Once the examination is completed, it could be returned to the town or surviving family members for reburial. If appropriate, the skull could remain with the university for educational purposes.