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SOU archaeologists tapped to help recover cremains lost in the Almeda Fire

Archaeologists will be working with the Alta Heritage Foundation to help find human cremains that were lost in the recent southern Oregon fires.

Posted: Oct 19, 2020 11:25 AM
Updated: Oct 19, 2020 11:37 AM

ASHLAND, Ore. — In the wake of the Almeda Fire, investigators discovered three sets of human remains — people who died during the course of the fire as it raced north from Ashland, through Talent and Phoenix.

But what becomes of human remains that were already cremated, lost when people were forced to suddenly evacuate their homes? Finding the ashes of a loved one amid the ashes of a devastating fire may seem to be an impossible task.

Over the weekend, Southern Oregon University's Laboratory of Anthropology announced that its archaeologists will be working with the Alta Heritage Foundation to help find human cremains lost in the recent southern Oregon wildfires, with a focus on the Almeda Fire.

Those efforts are set to begin on Friday and are expected to continue through the weekend.

The California-based Alta Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organization with the mission of using archaeology "in support of humanitarian efforts and heritage preservation," with a particular emphasis on using those techniques and specially trained dogs to find human cremains.

"When wildfire destroys a home, it results in virtually complete loss," the Alta Heritage Foundation said in a statement. "Oftentimes families have kept the cremated remains of previously deceased family members within their home in urns or other vessels. These may become lost amid the destruction. Because of their significance to the surviving family members, human cremated remains are endowed with significant sentimental meaning. The loss of these memorials contributes to the emotional trauma suffered by wildfire victims."

AHF deploys a group of volunteer archaeologists and dogs to work within wildfire disaster areas and help those who lost their homes find the cremated remains of their family members.

"Cremated remains recovery is a humanitarian effort," AHF said. "Archaeologists are motivated to perform this emotionally difficult work which requires a commitment to scientifically controlled field recovery and documentation of the cremated remains, personal effects, and other physical evidence because they have the requisite skills and possess the desire to help those in need."

If you lost your home and the cremated remains of a loved one in the recent fires, you can register with AHF on its website. The team will do its best to find and recover those cremains, at no cost to you.

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