Dan Johnson was just doing his part to widen Highway 26. He never thought his bulldozer would turn his work site into an active excavation.
“Last Monday, I was just dozing the hill over there a little wider for Bill to get up there with a scraper, and popped up out of there, looked like a red ball,” Johnson said.
His colleague Bill Tank figured out it was no child’s toy.
“I picked it up, and ... I didn't realize it was the skull, but it was the back of it. And I spun it around and there was the eyes and the teeth. So I put it back down.”
Johnson and Tank said their supervisor was notified immediately.
The skull, discovered on July 1, was just the start of a significant find. Jennifer Haas with the Great Lakes Archeological Research Center said crews later discovered more of the body and parts of the coffin. Those artifacts were excavated and are being further studied.
In the meantime, a section of the work site is still blocked off. Haas said archeologists found more human remains Thursday and will continue to check the area.
“We won't be touching that pile for a little while,” Tank said.
At this point, the bodies appear to be part of an old family burial plot, but Haas said it will take months to figure out who the people were or how old the remains are.
Haas said the area was thoroughly tested combed for prehistoric Native American artifacts before the work started.
She said these newly discovered remains do not appear to be related to those finds. Instead, it is believed those bones belong to Euro-Americans, according to Haas.
Haas said it will likely take months to study the remains, research historical documents, and gather as much information as possible to identify the remains.
Under Wisconsin statutes, the Department of Transportation has to report any human remains to the state historical society.
Once that organization is brought in, it ensures the remains are properly treated and is the group to give the DOT permission to start up work again on that site.