Southampton Town officials look to East Hampton for guidance

Historic Graves Protocol Considered

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation met with an archaeologist on Saturday, August 18, at a Shinnecock Hills construction site where human remains were found. Independent/Peggy Spellman Hoey

Southampton Town Board members are discussing a protocol for officials and developers to follow in the event human remains are found at construction sites. The topic was prompted by the discovery of remains two weeks ago at a site in Shinnecock Hills, an area once inhabited by the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he tapped the East Hampton Town Planning Department, looking for advice, but learned East Hampton does not have a protocol in place, either. In his conversations, Schneiderman said he learned New York State has a map of archaeologically sensitive areas, known as the “circles and squares” map and East Hampton had considered hiring an archaeologist to “dive deeper” and make a more detailed map, but nothing had come to fruition. However, he noted East Hampton Town officials do seem willing to sit down with Southampton officials to discuss a protocol.

“It may be something for September or October,” he said.

In the meantime, Schneiderman said the town is facing two issues: how to pre-identify likely archaeologically sensitive properties before digging starts and when to have an archaeologist on site.

Councilman John Bouvier, who visited the construction site with Schneiderman, credited the developer for doing the right thing and stopping work.

“It was good to see that we are going to work hard and try to do this and have more protocol involved, particularly in a sensitive area,” he said.

But Councilwoman Christine Scalera said the town does have a protocol, which has been used in the past, and has been signed with the Shinnecock Tribal Council.

“So, we can use that as a starting place for potential future finds,” she said.

A skull, leg bone, and a blue glass flask were unearthed by construction workers digging a foundation at 10 Hawthorne Road in Shinnecock Hills on August 13. Construction on the project was immediately halted pending an investigation. At the time, a Suffolk County Police spokeswoman said the bones were believed to have been buried for at least 50 years. A detailed analysis has not been completed by forensic scientists and archaeological consultants. The town is currently considering preserving the property using money from the Community Preservation Fund.

“We are doing our best to just try and preserve that property. If not, we will have to wrestle with how to develop it, so obviously, it is going to be a sensitive matter. So, preservation would be the best option, but we can’t always come to an agreement on the price,” Schneiderman said.

Tribal members have previously stated that they would like to see the land preserved, but also a protocol ironed out for future finds.

Burials and other artifacts have been found in the Shinnecock Hills area, the supervisor said. “I understand why the Shinnecock Nation is particularly concerned about the Shinnecock Hills area. So, if nowhere else but that area, we do a little more homework and try to maybe prioritize our acquisitions in that area, I think that would go a long way.”