Southampton Town has agreed to purchase Shinnecock Hills land where skeletal remains were found last month.
A skull, bones, and a glass flask from what is suspected to be the burial site of a tribal leader were unearthed during an excavation on Hawthorne Road August 13. The town is hosting a public hearing October 9, at 1 PM, to propose using $450,000 from the Community Preservation Fund — which is financed through a two percent tax on real estate transfers — to buy and preserve the 0.34-acre lot owned by KB Southampton LLC.
Tribal members are raising money through a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/ytver to contribute an additional $50,000 to offset some of the property owner’s cost of re-grading the site. The Shinnecock Nation plans to enter into a stewardship agreement with the town after the purchase is made to manage the property.
“I think it’s critical to preserve this property for a number of reasons,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “Most important, its sanctity to the Shinnecock Nation I think has to be respected and honored. As long as we have that opportunity, that’s the happy ending, the best solution for everybody.”
The property owner agreed to halt construction and the remains are being examined by the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office, according to the town.
“This was a responsible property owner who did the right thing,” Schneiderman said. “The police department was immediately contacted. We appreciate his willingness to work with us on all fronts — reporting his findings, stopping work, and agreeing to sell.”
An archaeological study of the property may be required to determine whether there are other remains at the location. The supervisor said he’s hoping this incident will prompt formal procedures when ancient remains are found at construction sites in the future.
“There’s two things I’m looking at here,” Schneiderman said. “First, to better identify areas with a high probability for containing culturally sensitive materials so that when these properties come before the town and they’re within these zones, we can have some sort of formality, be it having an archeologist at the site or something. And second, procedural steps to take when encountering human remains.”
Schneiderman said there is currently protocol for when remains are found on town, country, and federal land, but not on private property. There may be something done at the state level, he said, noting his talks about a state rule with Assemblyman Fred Thiele.
Southampton Town has a list of known burial grounds that are mapped out at www.infocenter.southamptontownny.gov by clicking on “points of interest” and selecting “cultural resources” and “historical site” from the drop-down menu.
Roger Tollefsen, Southampton’s Historic Burying Ground Committee chairman, said there are 40 sites throughout the town that are not town-owned. He agreed with Schneiderman that there should be a practice to follow and markers placed on sites where remains are found.
“I’ve heard too many stories where remains were found and plowed over or paved over,” he said. “There’s a whole history of things that were done in the past that we wouldn’t even consider today.”
An example of a desecrated gravesite the committee chairman pointed to was the Old Burying Ground, where the first two generations of the founders of the Southampton area are said to be buried. A two-part presentation titled “Uncovering the Secrets of the Old Burying Ground” will be hosted by his organization at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton on Thursdays, September 20 and 27, at 11 AM.
“It’s a great story to show what should not happen, what we shouldn’t do,” Tollefsen said. “Any time you find something that has preceded us, it’s important to recognize the impact it’s had on where we are today. We need to provide education for the future so that people can understand where we come from.”