LAGUNA BEACH — The human bones found under a street in a posh coastal neighborhood here belonged to a male Native American and are 1,000 to 2,000 years old, a county forensic anthropologist said Thursday.
Judy Suchey, a Cal State Fullerton anthropology professor, said that her examinations at the Orange County coroner's lab led to the identification of the remains, which include the bones from one thigh, part of a pelvis and skull fragments.
The bones were found by pavement company workers early Wednesday about a foot beneath Crescent Bay Drive.
No artifacts or other skeletal parts were discovered at the site, and Suchey, who has been the county's forensic anthropologist since 1969, concluded: "There is no indication that there were multiple burials or that this was a cemetery of any kind."
The thickness of the bones, particularly the skull, led Suchey to determine that they were those of a male, probably between 5 feet, 6 inches and 5 feet, 7 inches tall.
"The thickness of the bone is the key to the sex," Suchey said. "I feel certain the individual was a male. He is very robust, actually tall for an American Indian male in California, where very few are taller than 5 feet 7."
Female Native Americans in this area were generally no taller than 5 feet, 3 inches, Suchey said.
She said the construction crew, which was repairing a water main in the neighborhood, unfortunately shattered the skull before workers saw the bones.
But there were enough remains for Suchey to determine that the man was apparently buried in a fetal position, with his legs flexed and tucked up against his chest, which is often the case in Native American burials.
Although the bones were uncovered near ground level, the hilly, bluff-top neighborhood had been heavily graded in the 1920s, when it was subdivided, so the body may originally have been much deeper, Suchey said.
"At that time there may have been more remains, but we have no way of really knowing," Suchey said.
The bones will be stored at the coroner's office and turned over to the county's Native American Heritage Commission, which will determine what to do with them, Suchey said.
Unearthing bones, even ones as ancient as these, is not unusual in Orange County, Suchey said. The Aliso Creek area at the southern end of Laguna Beach and the Santa Ana River bed yield frequent human remains, she said.
"About half turn out to be homicide-related, and about half are American Indian," Suchey said. "It's important that people contact the coroner's office when they find bones. There may be an important clue to a homicide case or to our evidence of American Indians in this area."