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Shinnecock Hills construction workers find skeletal remains, police say

A lawyer for the Shinnecock Tribe has filed an injunction regarding excavation of the bones, which included a skull and which an anthropologist said are at least 50 years old.

The building site on Hawthorne Road in Southampton

The building site on Hawthorne Road in Southampton on Tuesday, where human remains were discovered the previous day. Suffolk County homicide detectives removed the remains and are investigating. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Human skeletal remains were discovered Monday during construction at an undeveloped site in Shinnecock Hills, Suffolk County police said, a find members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation believe is one of their ancestors.

Police received a 1:11 p.m. call reporting what appeared to be a skull and other bones that were discovered by builders at the wooded Hawthorne Road site, near the Shinnecock reservation, according to Southampton Town police.

Southampton police and Suffolk County Homicide Squad detectives responded. The remains were taken to the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office for further analysis by an anthropologist, police reported. There, an anthropologist determined the remains were at least 50 years old, police said.

Michael White, whose business partner owns the property, said Tuesday that workers discovered the bones, as well as a piece of rounded glass pottery, Monday afternoon. Investigators searched the site but did not find additional remains or artifacts.

“They sifted bone fragments here for six hours,” White said.

He notified representatives from the Shinnecock Indian Nation of the find. 

Tela Troge , a tribal member and a Southampton attorney, was critical of the way the removal was handled.

She noted the discovery was just outside the area designated as the Sugar Loaf Hill Shinnecock Indian Burial Ground Critical Environmental Area, making it likely the remains were of American Indian origin.

“There is protocol for what happens when human remains are discovered,” she said. “It [the excavation] is way outside of New York State protocol. It’s offensive to the tribe. It’s offensive to the person.”

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recommends law enforcement agencies determine whether the remains are forensic or archaeological. If the remains are determined to be American Indian, the agency recommends they be left in place  and “protected from further disturbance until a plan for their avoidance or removal can be generated,” according to the department’s website.

Police said the remains had already been excavated by construction machinery by the time they arrived on the scene, and investigators decided they should be examined at the medical examiner’s office.

“The determination was made to collect all parts of the remains to properly examine them in a laboratory setting,” a police spokeswoman said.

Troge said she plans to file an Article 78 injunction on behalf of the tribe, a procedure to review administrative actions in New York State.

Construction will remain on hold until an investigation is complete, officials said.

Suffolk police asked anyone with information to call the homicide squad at 631-852-6392.

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