Work on gas pipeline in Sharpsburg on hold after human bones discovered

SHARPSBURG, Pa. — The work to replace a natural gas pipeline in Sharpsburg has been on hold ever since crews discovered human bones there last week, but what hasn’t stopped is the work to figure out if it is in fact an indigenous burial site or something else entirely.

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“In my opinion this is huge,” said Miguel Sague Junior with the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. “Because if they are indigenous bones this was not expected. This was not something that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History or any other archeological organization knew about previously. It would of course confirm our belief that this was Seneca land, indigenous territory.”

Miguel Sague Junior is with the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. Channel 11′s Alyssa Raymond spoke with him in Guyasuta Square in Sharpsburg.

Guyasuta was the leader of the Seneca Tribe, which settled in Sharpsburg in the 1700s. There’s also a statue of him in Duquesne Heights with George Washington.

“Nobody really knows where Guyasuta is buried,” Sague Jr. “So, it would be like freaky if these bones were the bones of Guyasuta, but I don’t know. That would be a real long shot.”

On June 21, Peoples Gas was working on replacing about 500 feet of natural gas pipeline on Short Canal Street when they made the discovery.

“They had three or four tarps laid out with a bunch of little bones,” said Ray Mistelske.

This part of the project on Short Canal Street was scheduled to be finished this week. They’re still working on other parts of the new pipeline, but this section is on hold for now until the truth is uncovered.

“We’re still waiting,” said Sague. “This was very active native settlement in this region. It wasn’t just Guyasuta, but a number of other people that were in this area.”

With the help of anthropologists and archeologists, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office is working on finding out how long these bones have been buried here.

“The indigenous people in this area had been driven out by the end of the 1700s,” said Sague. “If these bones are dated for the 1800s, then the probability of them being native bones is very low.”

Sague says the Senaca are the people most closely associated with Western Pennsylvania. Two other tribes, the Shawnee and the Lenape, were active in the area. A large Lenape village was across the river in Lawrenceville in what is now known as Arsenal Park.

If they do belong to an indigenous tribe, Sague says the site would be considered sacred and an effort would begin to return the remains to the tribe’s existing reservation. It’s a law called The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

“I’m pretty hopeful,” said Sague. “Optimistic that they’re going to be indigenous remains. My sense is that there will be an effort not only from the indigenous community but some of the archeological scholarly community as well to return them back to their people.”

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office is the lead agency. Channel 11 reached out to the ME’s office and a spokesperson said there is no further information available at this time and it will most likely be that way for several weeks.

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