solar carport project moved after workers found human remains near PERA building | Local News
State officials halted construction of a planned solar carport in the parking lot of the downtown PERA building after workers at the site uncovered a piece of the past.
A coffin. With human remains in it.
The State Building, located in the 400 block of Old Santa Fe Trail, was built in the mid-1960s on the site of a section of the old San Miguel Cemetery.
“It is well known that there was a cemetery somewhere,” said Thom Cole, spokesperson for the state’s general service department responsible for the carport project. “During construction we discovered a tomb, a coffin, and after consulting with the State Office of Archeology and our contractor, out of respect for anyone else who died on this property, we decided to abandon construction. from a carport over there. “
Work on the project began on May 10; workers discovered the coffin five days later, he said.
The state has since transferred the project to the Garrey Carruthers building near Camino Carlos Rey and Cerrillos Road. Originally slated to cost the PERA building $ 1.6 million, the project’s move could cost the state “a few hundred thousand” more, Cole wrote in a follow-up email.
Eric Blinman, director of the state bureau of archaeological studies, said officials from the General Service Department called his department on May 15 to exhume the remains for investigation.
“What the GSD did was the right thing [in stopping the project]”Blinman said Wednesday.
This is not the first time in recent history that a construction project has unearthed the deceased. In February 2020, human remains were found at the La Secoya de El Castillo construction site in downtown Santa Fe.
And just over 10 years ago, the Bureau of Archaeological Studies was called to the PERA building after a utility contractor installing a generator and underground lines found the remains of human skeletons.
A 2011 Bureau of Archaeological Studies surveillance report on the incident said information on the San Miguel cemetery was “difficult to come by.” But this report indicates that the area, located near the San Miguel Mission, likely served as a site for burial remains dating from the 1700s and possibly as far back as 1914.
Blinman said the church cemetery “would have adjoined De Vargas Street and stretched south.”
Prior to the construction of the PERA building in 1966, “many graves were exhumed and moved away from the site,” according to the 2011 report. “However, it is possible that isolated graves were missed or that disjointed remains exist there. ‘inside and on the outskirts of the old cemetery. “
This report includes information from David Snow, a New Mexico historian and archaeologist, regarding the 1966 excavation of human remains from the cemetery abandoned during the original construction project.
“According to Snow, a Native American burial was among the 13 or 14 burials unearthed from the Catholic cemetery,” the report said. “The bodies were wrapped in shrouds and portions of wooden coffins were present. One individual had a wooden leg and was dressed in a colorful costume; a child was buried between his legs.
State historian Rob Martinez said it was typical during colonial New Mexico to bury people near churches – and, in many cases, under churches.
“And they didn’t use coffins,” he said.
The use of coffins in burials in the state began in the 1850s, Martinez said.
The coffin found at the site is probably not older than this period, he added.
“If they look at the remains inside and the type of clothes they wore – if they are kept – they could get a much better idea of the period,” Martinez said.
Meanwhile, the state has two other solar shelter projects underway, one at the Wendell Chino Building and one at the Harold Runnels Building, both located on St. Francis Drive. Project Chino costs around $ 700,000 and Project Runnels costs $ 6.9 million, Cole said.
It is not known if there are any undiscovered cemeteries under these properties.