The Unknown Sailor

Archaeology Specialist, Emily Carleton (right), at the Evergreen Cemetery gravesite.
Archaeology Specialist, Emily Carleton (right), at the Evergreen Cemetery gravesite.

April 23, 2013 – The remains of a 19th-century “Unknown Sailor” were re-interred in Evergreen Cemetery, approximately 150 years after his death. His skeleton had been discovered buried in a redwood coffin on the bluff at the edge of the Mendocino headlands.

Katy Tahja reported for the Beacon, “On April 21, 1986, a hiker reported he found bones sticking out of the earth and Mendocino’s “Mystery Man” was found.  Breck Parkman, a senior archaeologist with State Parks, headed the project with fellow archaeologist John Kelley and State Historian George Stammerjohan to help. They spent a day recovering all the bones from the site 300 feet north of the Miasa Mendocino Sister City monument.”

The grave also contained remnants of clothing: “six brass buttons or snaps for trousers” and “porcelain four-hole glass buttons for a collared shirt.”

“Unknown” gravestone in Evergreen Cemetery, July 2021.
“Unknown” gravestone in Evergreen Cemetery, July 2021.

Emily Carleton, an archaeology specialist with the State of California, analyzed the remains. “Sometime, around 1850 to 1870, forensic evidence suggests a sailor died at sea and his body was washed up on shore.” His “sex was determined by his pelvic girdle and artifacts of his attire. His long femurs gave him an estimated height of six feet and an age range of 20 to 27 years.  The curvature of the femurs along with the overall larger size of the bones and the context of the burial helped determine that this individual was of Northern European descent.”

Carleton established his occupation by examining his skeleton. “Study of sites where muscles attached to his skeleton indicate repetitive and strong motions of lifting, pulling and twisting of the upper body and arms, consistent with a sailor’s repetitive motions of rowing, hoisting sails, etc.”

The grave site also offered important info. “A clue to his manner of death came from black sand by either side of his pelvis. Light color sand surrounded the grave but darker sand was evident below in the surf line. If the body had rolled on the beach, the surf would have filled the pant pockets with sand. The fabric rotted away in the coffin but the black sea sand stayed by his hip bones.”

Erosion concerns prevented the sailor from being reinterred where his body was found. Laurie Hill, manager of the Mendocino-Little River Cemetery District, stepped forward with a final resting place in Evergreen Cemetery, and stone mason Robert Milhollin created a grave marker.

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