LORAIN – A disbelieving Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera was handed a human skull in the lobby of the police station Monday afternoon.
Rivera initially was skeptical that Black River Historical Society curator Ron Sauer was telling the truth about the contents of two blue plastic bags that he had carried through security into Lorain City Hall. That was until Rivera opened the bags and saw the brownish skull.
Rivera then went to find a detective to talk to Sauer about his unusual delivery, which police and Sauer suspect is an antique.
“I didn’t know what to do with it, so I decided to take it down to the police station,” Sauer said Tuesday.
Sauer, who collects Native American artifacts, said someone tried to sell the skull to him a few days ago and he told that person, whom he declined to identify, that it was illegal to possess human remains, even as part of a private artifact collection.
“It’s immoral, and it’s disgraceful to the Indians to have one of their ancestor’s skulls on display,” he said.
But that wasn’t always the conventional wisdom on Native American remains, he said. As recently as 50 years ago, Sauer said, people would buy and sell ancient human skulls, some thousands of years old.
Sauer said he doesn’t think the person who gave him the skull meant any harm by it because they got it as part of a group of other Native American artifacts and didn’t want the skull. He said the person heard he collected relics and contacted him. When he learned it was illegal to sell human remains, the person told him to keep the skull, Sauer said.
Initially, Sauer said, he tried to get an archaeological organization to take the skull, but it declined because of the lack of paperwork explaining the origin of the skull, which appeared to have been treated with chemicals to preserve it.
He said he also briefly considered burying it himself, but decided that could result in legal problems down the road, so he ended up going to police.
Lorain police Lt. Roger Watkins, the detective Rivera sent out to talk to Sauer, said he’s never had someone walk a skull into the police station or even heard of such a thing during his law enforcement career.
“We’re still looking into it, but I think this is probably a museum piece,” Watkins said.
Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans said he will have a forensic pathologist in his office examine the skull to find out more about it.
He said it’s not uncommon for his office to receive bones from police or the public that have been found in backyards or construction sites, but he’s never seen a human skull turned in.
“I’d say 99 percent of the time it turns out to be animal bones,” Evans said. “It’s rare to get a human artifact.”
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147