Construction at VA uncovers old bones

Anthropologist examining two olds bones excavated during construction at Prescott VA

Contractors doing some cleanup work near the former officer quarters at the local VA campus halted work last week when they excavated an area that contained a couple of ancient bones.

The Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System is located off Highway 89. The area where the bones were located were on the far southern side of the 164-acre campus.

Public Information Officer Mary Dillinger confirmed Monday that two bones that may date back to before the VA occupied the property were found by some contractors on Dec. 12. Work was immediately halted, and VA Police Chief Brian Schuman was alerted. He then notified federal VA authorities who were able to arrange for a world renowned anthropologist to come and examine the bones.

That process is now underway, she said.

The construction in that area is on a temporary halt until such time as the anthropologist determines there is no fear of finding more human remains, Dillinger said. She said it is believed that these are isolated bones — they were two individual bone fragments rather than a full skeleton or skull – and do not indicate remnants of an Indian burial ground. The Yavapai Tribe has been notified of the find as the bones were located near the fence line between reservation land and the VA’s official border, Dillinger said.

Though the bone deterioration suggests these are quite old, no determination has yet been made on an exact time of death or to whom they might have belonged, and it’s possible that information will not be able to be officially decided, Dillinger said.

Before the VA took over operations on the property 86 years ago, the campus was home to Fort Whipple, a tactical base for the United States Calvary during the Indian Wars of 1864 to 1882. The property then transitioned into the headquarters of the Arizona Rough Riders during the Spanish American War.

During World War II, Fort Whipple was converted into a tuberculosis sanatorium. In 1920, it became a hospital for disabled veteran. It was turned over to the federal Department of Veteran Affairs in the early 1930s as a general medical and surgical hospital.

In 2017, the VA embarked on some $30 million worth of upgrades and major construction projects, including an almost $10 million expanded and new outpatient laboratory and pharmaceutical building.

The bone findings have not disrupted any patient care areas or any of the major construction projects now underway, Dillinger said.