A human jaw bone was discovered Sunday near the intersection of Montezuma County Road E and U.S. Highway 160, south of Cortez, according to reports.
About 8 p.m. Sunday, Montezuma Sheriff’s Deputy Victor Galarza received a call from a woman who had been searching for a lost dog and had discovered a possible human jaw bone near that intersection, Galarza wrote in his report.
Galarza responded to the area and found the bone about 12 feet from the side of the highway, the report states. County Coroner George Deavers and Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Tyson Cox later responded to the area, and both confirmed that the item was a human jaw bone, according to the report.
No other bones were found in the area, and the case is completed, the report states.
Deavers said Tuesday that the bone was possibly from a 20-to-25-year-old female, but he did not say when the person had died.
Sheriff Steve Nowlin said the bone was not from a homicide, and the investigation was not a criminal case. He said the bone likely came from a skull that was used in a medical training or research capacity.
“Human cadavers are used for research in medical schools all the time,” Nowlin said.
The sheriff’s investigation is closed, and the case has been turned over to the coroner, Nowlin said.
Deavers said the jaw had been prepared in such a way that is consistent with parts that are used for educational purposes. Some of the teeth had been glued back into the jaw, he said.
A forensic anthropologist is examining the jaw to determine more about the age and gender of the person, as well as how long it has been since the person’s death, he said.
A similar mandible was found last year on Thanksgiving Day in the middle of a parking lot in Cortez, Deavers said. The jaw bone discovered Sunday looked to have been sitting by the highway since fall, and it’s possible that the two incidents are related, Deavers said.
The coroner speculated that someone could have stolen the part from a medical facility and later discarded it, but he said there is no way to determine how the jaw ended up on the side of the highway Sunday.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to how it got where it is,” Deavers said. “You don’t just find that.”
Nowlin said people come across human remains, such as the jaw bone, occasionally in this area. People sometimes dig up Ancestral Puebloan artifacts or remains by mistake, he added.
Nowlin said the sheriff’s office, along with Deavers, would reach out to nearby medical examiners and other medical personnel to make them aware of the incident and determine whether human parts came up missing from any local facility.