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30 October 2005
Ancient Indian burial site found in Riverhead park

Last week's stormy weather uncovered what experts said may be an important early American Indian burial site at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead (New York, USA). The site was spotted by a park supervisor after the Peconic River bank was eroded by heavy rains and high wave action, said Suffolk County Parks Commissioner Ronald Foley.
     Archaelogists said that the site contained bones from at least two people believed to be Indians buried during the Early Woodland period, from 800 BCE to 800 CE. It also contained artifacts including a pipe and fragments of a bowl. The bones were given to consulting forensic anthropologist Vincent Stefan.
     "The bones were in small pieces," said David Thompson, vice president of the Suffolk County Archaeological Association, who visited the site. "They were obviously burnt. There were charred pieces of skull and small pieces of a jawbone. The fact that they were cremated is a holdover from a culture that immediately preceded the Early Woodland which was called the Transitional Culture." In addition, Thompson said, "there was an exquisite ceramic pipe that was nearly perfect and had very interesting geometric detail on it. It was obviously used; it had burn marks on it. It was about four inches long." Thompson added "there was also some broken pottery ... a very early type of pottery that would make it an Early Woodland burial."
     Stefan, a professor at Lehman College in the Bronx and a forensic archaeologist for the county, said "there wasn't enough of the remains to make a determination if they were Native American. All I was able to conclude was that I had fragments of remains for two or three individuals who had been intentionally burned or cremated." Stefan said he would need more complete skeletal remains or additional artifacts and possibly further systematic excavation to determine the race or ancestry.
     Foley said the county would be consulting with leaders of the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton, the nearest active American Indian group, on the proper thing to do with the bones and site. "In many cases the best thing you can do to preserve an archaeological site is to bury it and seal it up. We haven't made a final decision and are researching our options to make sure we do it right."
     This is the first significant American Indian burial ground uncovered since a Shelter Island resident uncovered remains two years go. Shinnecock leaders have been trying to work out a policy for Shelter Island and other towns on what to do with such discoveries.

Source: Newsday.com (27 October 2005)

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