Archaeologists meticulously dug through dirt atop a ridge on Kanab's eastern edge Monday, gingerly picking their way around what are believed to be the skeletal remains of at least five ancient American Indians.
The bones were discovered on private land last week when a turf farmer was digging a trench to install an irrigation line.
"I was on a backhoe . . . when the guy I was working with yelled at me. I saw a big femur bone sticking up," said Tom Willardson, the owner of Tommy's Turf.
He had laid about 1,400 feet of irrigation line when the bone turned up. He called police.
"I stopped digging out of respect for who [the bones] belonged to," said Willardson on Monday.
City police reported the find to the Kane County Sheriff's Office, which in turn called in Bureau of Land Management officials based at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument headquarters in the south-central Utah community.
Ironically, the discovery is across the street - about a quarter-mile away - from the new Grand Staircase visitors center, which opened last June.
The state archaeologist also was called in, and officials from the various agencies worked together to investigate what could be a burial plot for as many as five people - probably Anasazi - who inhabited the region of southern Utah along the present-day Arizona state line 1,000 years ago. Carbon dating of the bones has not been done, but scientists are estimating their age based on other evidence uncovered at the site.
BLM archaeologists turned over control of the dig to the Antiquities Section of the Utah Division of State History, according to Marietta Eaton, the monument's assistant manager for cultural and earth sciences. The state controls finds on state and private land.
Eaton said because of the 400-mile distance between state antiquities offices in Salt Lake City and Kanab, Utah officials asked BLM archaeologists to act as their agents to evaluate the site and remove the bones so Willardson can continue to work on his sod farm.
"If they had been found on BLM land, we would have had to stop [Willardson] and work with [Indian] tribes on how to proceed," said Eaton.
Remains found on federal land are covered under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. Unlike state law, NAGPRA won't allow federal officials to aid landowners in mitigating such delays.
However, state Archaeologist Kevin T. Jones said Monday that local protocol largely mirrors the NAGPRA procedures in thor- oughness. Once the amount of remains and artifacts that would be affected by Willardson's work are documented and removed, they will be sent to Salt Lake City for further study by experts.
When that work is completed, tribes in the area - most notably the Hopi - will be informed of the findings so they can repatriate the remains and any artifacts found with them.
Jones said the Hopi claim to be direct descendants of the Anasazi who settled the Four Corners Region until about 750 years ago when they inexplicably disappeared.
Eaton said it appears the location where the sets of remains were buried may have been settled to take advantage of its good view of the surrounding valley.
She praised Willardson for his prudent action in halting work and calling authorities. Willardson, in turn, said he was impressed with the scientists' professionalism and meticulous techniques.
"I've been having a good time watching them," he said. "Their work involves taking pictures and drawings with tools that include little brushes and trowels. They're experts; I give them credit for that."