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Shinnecock Hills skeletal remains of American Indian origin, official says

The building site on Hawthorne Road in Southampton

The building site on Hawthorne Road in Southampton -- seen on Aug. 14, 2018 -- where human remains were discovered the previous day.  Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Human skeletal remains unearthed at a Shinnecock Hills construction site earlier this week are likely of American Indian origin, a state official said on Wednesday.

A skull, bone and glass bottle found at the Hawthorne Road site Monday were removed and taken to the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office, Suffolk County police said. An anthropologist determined them to be at least 50 years old.

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation were critical of the removal, saying it violated state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation protocol for the discovery of human remains. The discovery was made just outside the area designated as the Sugar Loaf Hill Shinnecock Indian Burial Ground Critical Environmental Area and a few miles west of the reservation.

In a letter dated Thursday, Nancy Herter, archaeology unit program coordinator for the state parks department, wrote to Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman urging the town to consult with members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation on archaeological studies at the site and repatriate the remains.

She also urged that construction be halted until it is known whether there are additional graves on the property, a condition already agreed to by the property owner.

“The high number of indigenous archaeological sites near Hawthorne as well as the glass bottle found with the burial suggest that the remains are Native American,” Herter wrote in the letter. “Glass bottles, like the one recovered, have been found in other early historic indigenous burials on Long Island.”

The letter validated what members of the tribe have said since the discovery was made on Monday. Shinnecock tribal trustee Lance Gumbs described the bottle as a flask and said similar objects have been found near the remains of high-ranking tribal members.

Tribal leaders have since been in contact with town officials and hope to develop local guidelines for similar situations, he said.

“We have been after Southampton for almost the last 20 years to put in place a protocol for this type of situation,” Gumbs said. “A lot of this could be avoided.”

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