The skull found Thursday in an old house in Coeymans belonged to a white woman between the ages of 30 and 50 who might have been scalped, but a shroud of mystery continues to veil what might have been a murder.
A New York State Museum scientist said Monday that markings found on top of the skull could be consistent with scalping, but that is not a certainty.
“The cuts on the skull didn’t heal. We don’t know if it was a scalping, but we haven’t ruled it out,” said Vanessa Dale, a bioarchaeologist at the New York State Museum, as she pointed out several fine lines that appeared cut into the smooth surface of the skull.
Dale and her colleague, Lisa Anderson, curator of bioarchaeology at the museum, said they are not leaping to the conclusion that the woman was scalped.
The lines could have been the result of a medical procedure, even an autopsy, said Anderson.
Yet, Anderson said, scalpings did occur during the French and Indian War and people have been known to survive a scalping.
Dale also pointed out that the teeth on the skull offer some clues.
Some of the teeth are missing, which is something that would occur later in life. Also, some of the back teeth are worn down, which would occur over time and not be seen in a young woman.
The skull appears to be from the 18th century, but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how old it is because no artifacts, such as coffin nails, were found with it, said Anderson.
The skull was discovered in the wall of a house at 28 Stone House Hill Road by a contractor who was working on the house. He called police, who turned the skull over to the state museum for testing.
It’s the second time the skull has been found.
Coeymans Police Officer Steve Prokrym, lead investigator on the case, said that in 1971 a contractor working for the former owners of the house uncovered the skull. They too called Coeymans police.
Then-Police Chief John Domonico told the owner (William Pillsbury) to rebury the skull.
The house at 28 Stone House Hill Road was an early trading post.
Questions remain and it might be difficult to determine when, or if, a scalping occurred. “If Henry Hudson was first in the area in 1609, and the Coeymans house was built in 1675, then maybe sometime between 1609 and 1675 might be when this incident could have occurred,” said Prokrym.
Anderson and Dale will do additional testing on the skull, but they said DNA testing on the skull and facial reconstruction of it depend on funding.
For the bioarchaeologists, the skull offers insight into the past. “It’s great that a person from the past ends up in our custody, but this could remain an unsolved mystery,” said Anderson.
“This is a great story and shows the rich culture that New York state and the town of Coeymans holds,” said Coeymans Police Chief Gregory Darlington.
And as for the possible homicide all those years ago in Coeymans, Prokrym said: “We may never know the full history behind the skull.”