Mysterious Skull Discovered Near Chatham Historical Site

It's not a crime scene — but it is a mystery: A human skull investigators say appears to be more than 100 years old has been found on Cape Cod.

The skull was discovered last week by landscapers raking leaves along the edge of the lawn at the Atwood House Museum in Chatham, the museum's executive director, Danielle Jeanloz, told WBUR Thursday.

Authorities were alerted immediately, Jeanloz said. Though officers did initially tape off access around the skull and the scattered leaves that had hid it, police soon were told they could stop treating the museum property like a crime scene. Forensic findings from the state confirmed the skull was likely too old for its uncovering to launch a criminal investigation.

Jeanloz, who also runs the Chatham Historical Society, said the skull was fairly intact.

"What I found especially interesting is, I think of a skull as being white, or off-white, and this had definitely been out in the elements," she said. "There's some green algae on it, and some browns, different shades of browns, and you could see what looked to be maybe some teeth. ... The lower jaw is missing ... to me, it looks like an adult, but again, I don't know that — that's just conjecture."

(Courtesy Chatham Police Department)
(Courtesy Chatham Police Department)

A forensic anthropologist from the state Medical Examiner's Office is now examining the skull in hopes of analyzing its age and how it may have come to the property.

People have put forth many guesses about the skull's origin, Jeanloz said.

One idea is that the skull came from one of the burial grounds around town. Another theory points out that Chatham is an old farming community, and it would not be strange if people in the 1600s or 1700s buried bodies in their backyards instead of cemeteries. Maybe an animal then dug it up.

The museum is in a house that was built in the early 1750s and at least five generations of Atwoods lived there, according to Jeanloz.

She and the other members of the historical society will be anxiously awaiting a report from the state that's expected to come in the next couple weeks.

"They're still trying to put the pieces together, so to speak."

With reporting by WBUR's Ashley Bailey

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Lisa Creamer Managing Editor, Digital News
Lisa Creamer is WBUR's managing editor for digital news.



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