In 2012, during construction of a conservation levee along the Kuskokwim River in the Native Village of McGrath, workers noticed a shallowly-buried human skull that had been revealed by earth-clearing activity. This discovery became known as the “Tochak McGrath Discovery.”
Under the direction of the TCC Archaeology Program, a forensic research group determined that the find included three intact human skeletal remains and the remains of a dog. Stone artifacts found close to the remains indicated that the human remains were from individuals who lived before Russian-American colonization.
Through an agreement with the landowners, McGrath-Takotna-Nikolai-Telida Ltd. Corporation (MTNT), the McGrath Tribal Council and Tanana Chiefs Conference, the remains and artifacts were brought to TCC for further study after proper funerary ceremonies for spiritual protection were completed.
Direct radiocarbon dating of the skeletal materials has indicated that these human remains are approximately 600 years old. Using genetic testing, it was determined that two of the three are male with ages at death estimated to be around 35-40, 19-20 and 2-3 years. The determination of ages at death was based on bone development, arthritic wearing and tooth eruption patterns. Genetic sequencing has shown that the oldest individual had a different mother than the two younger individuals.
All three recorded a marine-based diet, indicating that they were highly dependent on salmon. Additional DNA testing promises to provide further details about their life and give insight to the early life-ways of Upper Kuskokwim people.
After the completion of forensic studies, the remains will be returned to the McGrath Native Village for a traditional burial and ceremony.
TCC Archaeology Program’s research of the Tochak Discovery has been presented at the annual meeting of the Alaskan Anthropological Association, as well as numerous press releases and local radio interviews in McGrath. The results of this research are currently progressing with the help of collaborators in medicine and archaeology fields.
Research on this project was partially funded by the US Department of Agriculture and a grant from the National Science Foundation, Arctic Social Sciences program.
- KUAC and radio interview with Robert Sattler: http://fm.kuac.org/post/preliminary-analysis-offers-more-details-about-1000-year-old-bones-discovered-mcgrath
- Daily Newsminer: http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/mcgrath-remains-found-to-be-years-old/article_c75b5a10-5353-11e3-b81c-001a4bcf6878.html
- Alaska Dispatch News: http://www.adn.com/science/article/skeletons-recovered-interior-alaska-offer-clues-life-1000-years-ago/2013/11/21/
- Tanana Chiefs Conference Press Release: https://www.tananachiefs.org/news-media/press-releases/ancient-human-remains-discovered-on-the-upper-kuskokwim-river/
- Tochak research reports: https://www.alaskaanthropology.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Research-Notes-AJA-v111-2.pdf
- MTNT Data Sheet: http://ukpreservation.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Tochak-McGrath-Discovery-FAQs.pdf