Human skull found on I-5 is an “artifact,” state police say

State police say a human skull found on Interstate 5 two weeks ago was an artifact not linked to a homicide.

On Nov. 21, a state Department of Corrections cleanup crew reported finding a “suspicious object” on the freeway, the Oregon State Police announced at the time. 

State troopers responded to the northbound lanes of I-5 near milepost 260 in Salem and found a small backpack containing the skull, which they transported to the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s office to investigate its identity.

Capt. Kyle Kennedy, spokesman for the Oregon State Police, said Wednesday that the agency had identified the skull as an “artifact.”

“It is ‘very old’ and there isn’t an initial indication of homicide linked to the skull,” Kennedy said in an email.

Kennedy said a forensic investigation is still pending, and police are working to identify the person.

“Ancestry has not been determined, nor has the length of time that elapsed prior to the discovery.  Analysis and examination is ongoing, including possible genetic testing,” he said in an email Thursday.

He added that human remains will never be released to a museum or historical society. “Once the investigation is concluded, and  based on those conclusions, this individual’s remains will be respectfully returned to the appropriate party,” he said.

The agency after discovering the skull said it likely belonged to a woman in her late 30s or 40s but had no identifiable features.

This story was updated Thursday after the Oregon State Police provided additional information.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.