Matt: If I'm digging in my back yard and I come across a human skull, do I have to report this to anyone, or can I keep it? Does it matter how deep I find it? And what if I'm camping and find it on state or federal land? Please let me know. — Andy Dumaine, @juno.com
I’ve notified the authorities to swing by and check your house for unusual lawn ornaments, so you might peek through the curtains occasionally to watch for that black-and-white rolling up to the crime scene. If there’s no ax sticking out of the skull, hinting that a crime’s been committed, you probably can keep your little find under your hat. But you can’t plant ivy in it or use it as a hood ornament or even rebury it.
Section 7050.5(b) of the state Health and Safety Code says when you find the skull, you have to put down your shovel, back carefully away from the site, and leave it undisturbed until the coroner’s had a chance to take a gander at it. But the law doesn’t specifically say you must report it, assuming you can forever live with that hole in your yard. Could the busy legislative bees in Sacramento have assumed you’d be a good citizen and come forward without being forced to? How naive. Of course, if things turn ugly, you could be charged with concealing evidence or some variation; but then a guy who’d want to keep a stranger’s skull around the house probably wouldn’t worry much about that.
There’s no question that if your skullduggery took place on public land you’d be breaking the law. Strictly speaking, you can’t even remove federal or state stones or dirt, so a big chunk of human being would be pretty much out of the question. I’ve gotta figure that anybody who found a skull in their vegetable garden would be so curious to find out more, they’d eventually turn it in to somebody. Even you, Andy.