While a skull staring up at you from the petunia patch might sound a bit unlikely, many people every year find bones while doing the gardening. Sometimes these are obviously animal bones, perhaps beloved pets of former owners of the home, or other animals buried for different reasons. No matter what kind of bones you find, it is important to treat them with respect and know what steps you should take on finding them.
- Determine if they are Human or Not
This might not be possible, but if the bones are too small or too big to be human or if you find a skull which is obviously not human shaped you can continue. If there is any thought in your mind that what you are digging up could be human, then stop immediately and proceed to point two.
- Phone the Police and ask for Advice
Put down your tools, do not touch the bones any further, and do not move any spoil, do not fill it back in, or anything like that. Just phone the police. This is especially true in Scotland where there are different laws to the rest of the UK. The police will be able to determine if the body is recent enough to warrant further investigation by them or is of antiquity, which means it is of no interest to them.
- Consult with Archaeologists
Hopefully, you have had the all clear from the police that this is not a missing person or part of a crime scene. In that case, it is worth contacting the local archaeological trust or department on ideas what to do next. The body and the bones may be of interest. They will be even more interesting if they are in context. This means that the soil around them has not been disturbed since they were buried. If it is a jumble of ploughing and development, the bones will be of interest but the wider site (IE your garden) might not be.
Archaeology is expensive so it may be determined to do nothing further except to recover the bones and study them any other finds in their vicinity like burial goods, potshards, or coffin nails. However, it is entirely possible that your garden will be of particular interest whether it is medieval, Roman, or prehistoric. Other investigations into randomly found bones, for example, have led to Anglo-Saxon burials, the body of Richard III, and determined that neanderthals seasonally migrated to the island of Jersey before it became an island.
- Rebury the Bones Respectfully
Whether human or animal, it is good to rebury the bones with respect. This could be on the same patch, or elsewhere. It may be possible that the bones have been taken in and stored for analysis by the local Archaeological trust or department, which means the matter is out of your hands. However, if you do have them, it may not be possible to know the faith of the deceased unless they are clearly medieval. If possible, dig deep and lay them to rest in a cloth, and remember where you buried them for future reference.