Old Diver Tales

Over on PT’s  (Professor Taboo) blog, he has a post about a guy who had amassed an enormous collection of artifacts from all over the world. Including a lot of human skeletal remains. The guy was busted by the FBI, and it is a pretty huge local story. Here’s the link to PT’s post:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/41987475/posts/2196274256

I made a comment there, which I will repeat here:

“Well I must admit, I have found a LOT of stone artifacts in my time as a diver out on the river. I also walked creeks and riverbanks finding artifacts. What I NEVER did is dig for them. The few times I ran across what is known as a stonebox grave from the Mississipian time period, I did not disturb them.

There were times I found burials diving, you can easily tell what was a burial and what wasn’t. The burials I ran into, the body was folded over, knees to chest, into a small as possible mass, I presume to make it an easier hole to dig. I found them interesting, but dared not disturb them. As much as I enjoy finding an “arrowhead” I am not that desperate to do so, my conscience would not allow it.

Thousands of stone tools are washing out of riverbanks or creeks everywhere, or popping up in a freshly plowed field. Those that do are no longer in situ and have little scientific value. I also know the stuff I did find, which were common stone tools from most every time period, would be of little importance to any tribe. These artifacts are historical, they are meaningful in that they exist, but anyone who knows anything about them understands that these artifacts had little value to the people who made them, as they were worn out and discarded tools that no longer served a purpose to the user.

I have seen ceremonial stone artifacts that were supposedly burial items in museums. I also know a guy who found a ceremonial blade in a stonebox that I know the wherabouts of. Not everyone feels as I do.

What this guy was doing is obscene.

Ask me about the time I found a skeleton that I’m pretty damn sure didn’t belong to an Indian.”  END QUOTE

Well the “that time I found a skeleton I’m sure was not an Indian” story, I guess it should be told, and I knew it was going to be a bit too long for a comment at your blog PT…

This was way back early in my diving career, as a harvester of freshwater mussels. At this time the buyers were paying a higher price for what are known as bay quality shells. Shells back in the bays, grow large and thick, but they aren’t in as high numbers to be found. However every once in a while you could hit a spot and make a really good day. I was in an area on Kentucky Lake known as Paris Landing. There is a hotel there at the waterfront, way far back from the river channel and backwater enough to produce that quality bay shell I was looking for. It is in front of this hotel where I was working. There is a ridge there maybe 100 yards off from the bank in front of the hotel. I worked this ridge on a dive, and managed to come down off the ridge and work my way towards the bank in front of the hotel. You don’t always know where you are at or where you will end up on a dive, you just do it and wind up where you wind up. There is an area there by the hotel where the bank swings around a corner. I had crawled out of the rocks I was working and hit sand.

This is where I found the first vertebrae. Things just jump into your hand when you are moving your hands back and forth feeling for the telltale signs of shells. Well a vertebrae found its way into my hands. I had been doing this job for a few years at this time, and I have found Indian bones out there as there are places where they just wash out of the underwater ridges, which are numerous in Kentucky Lake. In every case I found an ancient bone or bones, they were very smooth, with a high level of patina. A dark glossy look to them. The vertebrae I was holding in my hands looked nothing like this at all. It was nowhere near as old. It had some blackening, though lacking any noticeable patina, and I could tell it was of a more recent timeline than any Indian bones I had ever seen.

To my knowledge there are no artifacts here in the Tennessee River valley, or the bones of those who manufactured them, except as far back as around 1500 years ago and beyond. The first era beyond historic* Indians is known as the Mississipian Period. Before that was the Woodland Period (1500-4000 YA.) Older yet the Archaic Period (4-8000 YA.) And predating that the Paleo Period (8-12000 YA.) The youngest artifacts and the bones of those who made them found around here are from the Mississipian Period, as I mentioned, 1500 years ago.

Well as I sat there making bubbles, and pondering all of this I decided right then and there something wasn’t right here. I put the vertebrae down and decided to get back to work. I immediately popped up some more vertebrae. Then I found what was left of a boot. Well I felt around some more and found quite a few more vertebrae all in one spot. At that point I quit looking. Granted I did not find a skull, or anything that would be an absolute positive ID for human remains, but the boot being there I felt like was sure pointing in that direction.

It should be noted that there is a small road that winds around in front of the hotel near the waters edge, and where I came up from the dive, was near what looked like a seldom used small boat ramp. Easily accessible by car… Suggesting a possilbility of a dumped body.

I aborted the dive, and went to the boat. Well I sat there for a while, assessed my take for the day and I wasn’t doing very well at all here. I knew I needed to pull anchor and find a better spot. But I also had a dilemma on my hands. This was back before everybody and their dog had a cell phone, I knew my day was done if I decided to call the cops. I reluctantly made the decision to get back to work and show something for the day, rather than call it all off and spend the rest of my day and probably half the night talking to the police. Unfortunately a great many of my diver counterparts were far from law abiding citizens, and many of them were rough, tough, ornery as bear, beer swilling, womanizing, bar fighting, cop hating, blackguards, with less than honorable reputations. I figured the cops would probably lump me straight in with that bunch. And I’ll admit, at least a couple of those descrptions would have fit me at the time and might still be true today 😉

So I figured I’d be a suspect before I might be considered some unlucky bastard who just happened upon a crime scene. To this day I have yet to report this incident. Though it does weigh in on my conscience from time to time.

* Modern identifiable tribes.

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6 thoughts on “Old Diver Tales

  1. Wow! Shell, if I may share my brutally honest thoughts about your UNDERSTANDABLE reasoning and decision, put yourself into the shoes (boot?) of the family that have no idea what happened to their sibling, child, or family member and still have no full closure on the whereabouts. Besides, whatever the “boot” might indicate or lead to… how do any of us know what may or may not cause us personal detriment or relief and fulfillment that we HELPED a highly distressed, suffering family… becoming a suspect or not?

    Anyway, have you confirmed in some way or further determined what the boot might have been associated with exactly?

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  2. Oh I didn’t confirm anything, I never went back there.

    It does nag at me occaisionnally, as to what you are suggesting. But then again there is probably a 50/50 chance if it is human remains, family may have put him there. And I say him because it was a damn big boot.

    Again if it is human remains, it had been there for quite some time before I stumbled upon it. It’s not like I found a fully articulated skeleton. It would have been a cold case way before I found it. But I am mulling calling it in, now that it is back in the forefront of my cranium.

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  3. Well, I went ahead and drafted an email which I sent to the authorities in Henry County.

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  4. I think you did the right thing Shell. 🙂 One never knows what info/tip given to law-enforcement might just solve & close a case. Well done Sir.

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  5. Wow. Fascinating story. I’d have more than likely done exactly as you did.

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  6. It sure seemed like the right call at the time. I was self employed, had a family to provide for, and no solid evidence of human remains. (Though my suspicions leaned in that direction and still do) Through the years this has always bothered me a little when I had time to think about it. Which wasn’t often…

    But I fired off an email today to the authorities. Haven’t heard back from them yet.

    Liked by 1 person

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