That’s Not A Skeleton—It’s 2 Skeletons

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAn anthropologist and a state investigator exhuming remains unearthed on the Green by Superstorm Sandy made another startling discovery: the bones belong to at least two different centuries-old skeletons. And counting.

The anthropolgist, Yale research associate Gary Aronsen (in black shirt in above photo), said Wednesday that he and state Death Investigator Alfredo Camargo collected facial bones from “two individuals” during a late-night dig among the roots of a downed tree on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Aronsen was back at work at the site, sifting through dirt with State Archaeologist Nick Bellantoni and Dan Forrest (at left in above photo), an archaeologist from the state’s historic preservation office. Bellantoni said they found a hand-wrought iron coffin nail from the 18th century, suggesting the bodies were buried in the 1700s. (One theory: The bodies belonged to victims of a 1775-82 smallpox epidemic.)

The bones surfaced in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which toppled a 100-year-old oak on the Green Monday evening. On Tuesday afternoon, a woman named Katie Carbo, who was checking out an odd-looking “rock,” discovered she was looking at the back of a human skull. Carbo called the police, who confirmed the discovery.

Visible among the roots of the tree was the back of skull, upside down, with its mouth open (pictured). It was still connected to a spine and rib cage.

Police do not suspect foul play. The Green was used long ago as a cemetery.

Cops secured the scene Tuesday afternoon and evening as Aronsen and Camargo worked to extract the bones that were visible.

Those bones belong to at least two different people, Aronsen said. “There may be more.”

The remains have been taken to the office of the state’s chief medical examiner in Farmington, a staffer there confirmed.

Police spokesman Officer Dave Hartman said the Aronsen and Camargo worked until after 11 p.m. Tuesday night. They will be working at the site for at least a week, he said.

Workers from Guilford Fence Works installed a temporary chain-link fence around the area Wednesday morning.

By 11:30 a.m., Bellantoni and Forrest were onsite. They set up a sifting screen and set about cutting back roots.

Aronsen arrived just after noon and began to work alongside the two men.

After conferring with the scientists, Assistant Police Chief Archie Generoso said the bones likely date from the late 1700s. He said it remained to be decided where the bones will end up. “We will have a ceremonial burial and re-bury these people,” Generoso said.

By 12:45 p.m., Bellantoni, Aronsen, and Forrest had begun sifting through dirt at the site. As Forrest shoveled spadefuls into a tri-colored screen-bottomed box, Aronsen shook it to let the dirt sift through. He examined the material that remained, discarding tree roots and collecting other items in small paper bags.

The idea is to “make sure we didn’t miss anything,” Aronsen said. The bones will be analyzed to determine the sex and age of the people, as well as the cause of death. The skulls of one of the people had large cavities, Aronsen said. He said he and Camargo found multiple facial bones, belonging to at least two people.

In addition to bones, the team found a coffin nail, said Bellantoni. He dated the hand-wrought iron nail to the 18th century. “No question.”

At 5 p.m., Forrest said the excavation had turned up a variety of artifacts from the 1800s to modern day. “Ceramics, glass. The type of stuff you’d expect in an urban environment.”

He said it’s still unclear how many people’s remains may have been unearthed. “The tree really scrambled things,” he said. “It’s a delicate puzzle.”

Bellantoni and Aronsen have been working together to discover more about another set of skeletal remains found in town last year, during construction at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Aronsen said he and Bellantoni will be giving a presentation about that research at the New Haven Museum on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Bone Fever

The exhumation of the bones continued to draw a crowd Wednesday. Three Yale neurology fellows strolling to the site made a discovery of their own: a bone fragment (pictured) on a paved pathway in the Green.

It looks like a vertebra, said Will Housley, who was the first to spot it.

The three alerted Chief Generoso. He called over Aronsen.

“It’s a great Halloween story,” said Joel Stern, one of the fellow, as he waited for Aronsen to walk over. “The ultimate.”

Aronsen bent down to pick up the bone and pronounced that it belonged to… an animal.

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posted by: anonymous on October 31, 2012  2:43pm

Very cool. Could be a good addition to the amazing museum underneath Center Church.

Better yet, leave the bones where they were found, covered with a thick glass plate.

posted by: Karen T on October 31, 2012  2:48pm

Are we really paying for these guys to unearth skeletons for at least a week, just so we can be told what everyone in the city already knows- there are bodies buried under the Green?  What I’m saying is, what a half-done operation.  If officials truly cared they would have given proper burials to all the 18th century folks who are buried here.  No one cares about that though, they just like the sensationalism caused by this recent find.  Throw some dirt over the bones and be done with it, or else dig up the whole Green and do what should have been done centuries ago and move all the bodies.

posted by: townie1030 on October 31, 2012  2:49pm

I was born in New Haven on 10.30, Mischief Night, 36 years ago. Aside from personally escaping any danger and loss due to the hurricane, this most appropriate finding for someone who’s a history buff and New Haven born and bred, was the best. birthday. present. ever. Perfect for a Full Moon/Mischief Night/and Halloween.

posted by: Dee Rien on October 31, 2012  5:38pm

Karen, this is New Haven’s history buried under that tree. It’s a shame you don’t seem to value that at all. Nor do you seem to have any interest in basic respect for the dead.

posted by: Karen T on October 31, 2012  7:44pm

Dee, quite the contrary.  To clarify, I’m pointing out that New Haveners have always known there are people buried under the Green and no one has cared to address the matter and give proper burials to any of the bodies.  I think it’s disrespectful to have concerts and such over their graves.  It’s silly to give one or two bodies this much attention when there are hundreds more that will be ignored because they didn’t happen to be exposed during the storm. As I said, leave them there or give all proper burials.  What’s disrespectful is disturbing the graves of these people and the tone of the media reports.

posted by: robn on October 31, 2012  9:15pm

Obviously the remains aren’t recent since theyre tangled up in 100 year old roots but if they’re in an undocumented area of the green its worth the archeology. Worth it for history and respectful to the former owner of those bones. Would you want your story forgotten or told?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 31, 2012  9:53pm

How do you know these bones donot belong to Yale Skull and Bones?

posted by: Nhv.Org on October 31, 2012  10:12pm

surprising, seeing there are probably only about 5000 under the New Haven Green.  It won’t be 50 years before they’re done exhuming them all with light equipment (i.e. brushes and archaeological equipment).

posted by: getyourfactstraight on October 31, 2012  11:08pm

I look forward to reading more about this and thanks for the interesting article.

posted by: CTNotableTrees on October 31, 2012  11:21pm

Does anyone what kind (species) of oak this is?  Can someone take a close-up picture of the leaves on the tree? 

posted by: Chris Gray on November 1, 2012  4:50pm

My Dad said that my ashes should be scattered on New Haven Green and, upon hearing him say that, I immediately agreed with him, so I feel for these bones whose owner will now no doubt no longer rest under it.

posted by: Mister Jones on November 4, 2012  4:46pm

To CTNotableTrees—there are some other tree photos in the first story.  It’s the Lincoln Oak, planted in 1909.