SAN MIGUEL ISLAND—An archaeological dig on San Miguel Island in 2005 led to the discovery of “Tuqan Man,” a Native American who died between 9,800 and 10,200 years ago. A bone belonging to Tuqan Man was found close to an eroded Chumash campsite as part of a survey at Channel Islands National Park.
A full excavation was completed after the National Park Service brought the Santa Ynez band of the Chumash. Researchers affiliated with the University of Oregon made the initial discovery. Those researchers, according to a news report in Ventura County Star, found the first bone showing through some dirt, amidst a few seashells.
One archeologist from the University of Oregon said he believed the discovered bone was part of Tuqan Man’s skull, according to the Ventura County Star report.
The researchers normally would have left the bone alone, but conditions on the island in 2005 hinted the discovery could be lost to erosion. The bone was also considered to be valuable evidence: it could give researchers insight on North America’s earliest settlers.
“They tried to cover up the exposed bone to protect it, and typically, that would be the end of the story. Human remains would be left alone,” the Ventura County Star story said in 2005. “But these were at risk of being lost to erosion and potentially were among some of the earliest human remains in North America at the time.”
Members of the Chumash tribe ultimately agreed to excavate Tuqan Man for research purposes.
“Uncovering Tuqan Man led to close to 12 years of extensive studies and five attempts to extract ancient DNA,” the Ventura County Star’s reporting stated.
A DNA study wasn’t ever completed, and federal officials had to find a way to determine who would ultimately get custody of Tuqan Man.
“Tests of Tuqan Man failed to get any recognizable DNA, but park officials knew he had been buried in a Native American site and the artifacts and the timing fit,” Ventura County Star reported. “They determined he was Native American, but still had to verify who should have custody. To do that, they had to show a direct relationship between Tuqan Man and the Chumash.”
Researchers, despite various cultural studies, were unable to conclusively connect Tuquan Man to the Chumash tribe, but a recently enacted federal law allowed agencies to transfer human remains to a tribe, “without being able to substantiate a claim,” according to the Ventura County Star.
Tuqan Man’s remains were ultimately transferred to the Chumash tribe; they would bury him again on San Miguel Island.
Sources: Ventura County Star, University of Oregon and Archeology.org.