updated 11/2/2004 3:26:33 PM ET 2004-11-02T20:26:33

Archaeologists have begun excavating ancient skeletal remains believed to be those of five people, probably Anasazis.

The bones were found on private land at the eastern edge of Kanab in southern Utah last week when a turf farmer was digging a trench to install an irrigation line.

"I was on a backhoe ... when the guy I was working with yelled at me. I saw a big femur bone sticking up," said Tom Willardson, the owner of Tommy's Turf.

"I stopped digging out of respect for who (the bones) belonged to," Willardson said Monday.

He called police, who called the Kane County sheriff's office, which called Bureau of Land Management officials at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument headquarters.

The discovery is just about a quarter-mile away from the Grand Staircase visitors center that opened in June.

The state archaeologist also was called in, and officials from the various agencies worked together to investigate the burial site.

Carbon dating of the bones has not been done, but scientists are estimating their age based on other evidence uncovered at the site.

BLM archaeologists turned over control of the dig to the Antiquities Section of the Utah Division of State History, said Marietta Eaton, the monument's assistant manager for cultural and earth sciences.

The state controls finds on state and private land.

Eaton said because of the 400-mile distance between state antiquities offices in Salt Lake City and Kanab, Utah, officials asked BLM archaeologists to act as their agents to evaluate the site and remove the bones so Willardson can continue to work on his sod farm.

State Archaeologist Kevin T. Jones said that once the amount of remains and artifacts that would be affected by Willardson's work are documented and removed, they will be sent to Salt Lake City for further study.

When that work is completed, tribes in the area, including the Hopi, will be informed of the findings so they can repatriate the remains and any artifacts found with them. The Hopi are one of the tribes that claim to be direct descendants of the Anasazi, who settled the Four Corners region.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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