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Bodies unearthed in unusual areas

Campus Correspondant

Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

Bodies unearthed in unusual areas

Santiago Pelaez/Daily Campus


Next time you picnic on the New Haven Green, think of all the bodies buried beneath the grass, Connecticut State Archeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellatini told an audience at a lecture Saturday.

At the beginning of the lecture, Dr. Bellatoni addressed a story that has been getting national and international media exposure: the discovery of human remains on New Haven Green unearthed by Hurricane Sandy. Since the body was discovered right around Halloween, and right after a major hurricane, the story went viral and was covered on NBC News,, and among other well-known media outlets. Hurricane Sandy’s winds toppled over the “Old Lincoln Tree” on New Haven Green, which was planted in 1909 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. When people ventured outside to survey the storm damage, a set of human remains was found attached to the roots of the Lincoln Tree. 

After the New Haven medical examiner determined that these remains were not those of someone who had died recently in a crime, Dr. Bellatoni and his team at the State Archeologist’s Office took custody of the bones. Dr. Bellatoni said that he hopes to use forensics to determine the age and sex of the bone and hopefully match it to the historical record and learn something about the life stresses and diseases faced by the deceased individual. S

ince the New Haven Green (like most town greens in New England) was originally used as cemetery from 1638 to 1797, Dr. Bellatoni believes the body is from the late 1700’s. Dr. Bellatoni mentioned that when older Colonial cemeteries were often turned into town greens in the 19th century, the bodies of the deceased were not moved and only the tombstones were relocated to new cemeteries. The bodies of the deceased were not moved since it was not considered respectful to move the corpses and since people did not understand germ theory, they were worried about moving bodies of diseased individuals that they believed could still spread illness. When an audience member asked why a body would be buried in such a shallow grave, Dr. Bellatoni responded that when the New Haven Green was landscaped and leveled in the early 20th century, many layers of soil were removed thereby causing bodies that were actually buried quite deep in Colonial times to not be as deep today. Dr. Bellatoni then joked with the audience to think about all the buried Colonial corpses the next time they picnic on the New Haven Green. 

From there, Dr. Bellatoni transitioned into his main presentation: “From PBS to Spike TV-Changing Media Presentations of the Science of Archeology.” He started off by praising the Special Symbiotic Relationship between the media and the science of archeology by pointing out how important the media is for bringing archeological discoveries to the public. However, Dr. Bellatoni feels that the media-archeology relationship can sometimes be a “positive relationship that doesn’t turn out quite right” mainly due to the media’s flare for sensationalism and for viewing, “history not as knowledge and learning but as about monetary value.” Dr. Bellatoni criticized shows like Diggers and American Diggers that both promote the search and sale of historical artifacts, which has unfortunately lead to, increased vandalism of archeological sites. Dr. Bellatoni then spoke about an attempted grave robbery at a Revolutionary War Cemetery in Ledyard, Connecticut where vandals tried to find Revolutionary War and Colonial memorabilia to sell for a quick buck. Dr. Bellatoni worries that the glorification of treasure hunting in the media can be especially dangerous in hard economic times where people will try anything to make some money. 

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