Two kayakers in Minnesota found a human skull fragment believed to be roughly 8,000 years old, sheriff officials said.
The curious kayakers discovered the skull fragment in September while on the Minnesota River near Sacred Heart, about 100 miles west of Minneapolis, WCCO reported.
The skull was sent to local officials and later an FBI forensic anthropologist who used carbon dating to estimate the skull belonged to a young man who lived between 5,500 and 6,000 B.C., according to the Renville County Sheriff’s Office.
The young man, who had suffered a severe head wound, had a diet heavy in fish, as well as maize, pearl millet and sorghum, the FBI anthropologist determined.
Sheriff department officials posted a photo of the skull on Facebook Wednesday, but the post was later removed after Native Americans groups in Minnesota said publishing it was “very offensive to the Native American culture,” the New York Times reported.
Sheriff Scott Hable, who could not be reached for comment early Friday, said he was blown away by the miraculous find.
“I don’t think anybody was anticipating the news to come,” Hable told the newspaper.
The man likely traveled through parts of what is now Minnesota during the Archaic period in North America, Hable said.
A professor of anthropology at Minnesota State University said the man likely subsisted on plants, deer, fish and turtles and freshwater mussels in the area.
“There’s probably not that many people at that time wandering around Minnesota 8,000 years ago, because, like I said, the glaciers have only retreated a few thousand years before that,” Kathleen Blue told the Times. “That period, we don’t know much about it.”
Hable said the depression on the man’s skull showed evidence of “blunt force trauma,” but it’s unclear how he died.
But Blue said she believed the wound had healed since it appeared smooth and rounded in photos, indicating it wasn’t his cause of death.
“It would have been something he actually survived,” Blue said. “Bone has an amazing ability to try to sort of fix itself after there’s been a traumatic injury.”
The skull was most certainly from an ancestor of one of the Native American tribes in the area today, Blue said. It’s now expected to be returned to tribes in Minnesota, according to Hable.
“To say we were taken back is an understatement,” Hable told the Washington Post. “None of us were prepared for that.”