The discovery wasn’t scientific, but stumbled upon accidentally by a local resident. Now, officials are working to return them to their rightful owner.

EMPIRE, Mich.—This year has brought with it a record number of visitors, nearly 1.7 million, to Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, along with an unexpected news item—this week’s announcement that prehistoric-era human remains have been found along the shores of Lake Michigan.

The remains were originally found in the summer of 2017, and returned to park officials in February 2019. They were later sent to Western Michigan University, where they were analyzed and categorized.

According to park officials, the human remains could not be identified as a known individual, but have characteristics of Indigenous people. They were taken from lands recognized as originally belonging to the aboriginal land of The Tribes, and are the first such remains found in the park.

The remains were found by a local resident, a finding revealed by park officials in several newspapers through a public notice.

Considering the date range of the prehistoric era is typically seen as between 5,000 and 3.3 million years ago, it is believed that the remains are Indigenous, as the first humans made their way to the continent between 10,000-15,000 years ago.

Since the finding, officials have begun asking representatives from Indigenous tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations that wish to claim ownership or control over the remains to reach out. Among the tribes contacted so far are the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Bay Mills Indian Community, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

The Hawaiian organizations were contacted as part of federal regulations, according to Scott Tucker, superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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The Lakeshore, in Empire, Michigan, is home to some of the most stunning lake views, sand dunes, and vistas in the entire United States, with 71,187 acres of land to explore.

It was voted the most beautiful place in America by Good Morning America in 2011, but few realize its rich Indigenous past.

“It tells us what the communities have said, that this was their traditional lands,” Tucker said to

“There’s no real scientific or archaeological piece of this. It’s more of a cultural and respect piece of us returning what was found to their descendants.”

Another public notice is expected to be published this month.

Representatives from other Indian Tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations that may wish to claim ownership or control of the human remains should contact Tucker by telephone at 231-326-4702 prior to Jan. 24, 2021.

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