ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. (WGNO) — Nearly 40 years after fragments of a human skull were found along the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, officials have determined the remains date back to prehistoric times.
St. Tammany Parish Coroner Charles Preston says the skull fragments were found in or around the lake in 1985, however, new lab results revealed the remains are far older than originally thought.
Following the discovery of the skull pieces, the State Archeologist sent the sample off to scientists at the LSU FACES Lab, which provides imagery of what a person may have looked like based on a DNA sample. The lab has been used for hundreds of forensic cases, including that of a missing Golden Meadow mother whose remains were found in Slidell three years after her disappearance in 1986.
Initial lab results indicated not only that the skull belonged to a woman who was between the ages of 25 and 35 at the time of her death. However, new information received by detectives revealed a shocking discovery about the woman: she lived during prehistoric times.
Investigators say the test results dated the bone to be from anywhere between 1634 and 1504 BC, estimating that the remains are roughly 3,500 years old. That would date the woman back to Louisiana’s Late Archaic Period, which occurred between 2000 and 800 BC.
Even more, scientists believe the woman was a decedent of the Poverty Point Culture along the Mississippi River, a group of indigenous peoples who occupied the areas in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast from 1730 to 1350 BC, roughly. Like many native peoples, the Poverty Point people were mound builders, known for their elaborate earthworks that were used for homes and ceremonies.
Since the news of the discovery, Coroner Preston has turned jurisdiction of the remains over to the Secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s Division of Archaeology. The specimen will remain at the LSU FACES Lab, protected by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The coroner has also met with officials at the Bayou Lacombe Museum, along with indigenous leaders with the Jena Band of the Choctaw Nation and the United Houma Nation regarding the find.
“I often say that no Coroner’s case is ever closed”, Preston said in a statement released Thursday. “It took a while as science progressed, but we have been able to identify the historical origin of this woman to the extent possible, and have taken steps to properly honor her life. I’m grateful for the work of our DNA Lab and Investigations staff, the Beta Analytics lab, Native American Community leaders, state authorities. I reiterate that we will never give up on any case. We hope to participate in the repatriation ceremony which may be held in the future.”