Halloween 2012 was made all the scarier for a resident of New Haven, Connecticut when Hurricane Sandy’s violent winds toppled a historic oak tree and revealed an ancient skeleton. Katie Carbo alerted police when she spotted a skull in the roots of the fallen oak, lying upside down with its mouth open, still connected to the spine and rib cage.
Historians and archaeologists excavated the site at New Haven Green, which was the town’s burial ground from 1638 until the late 1790s, and chose Halloween 2013 to reveal their findings on the human remains to a packed audience at the New Haven Museum. Their excavations actually revealed the bones of seven individuals dating from the 1790s, including two adults and a child buried with a toy marble. Their remains had become entangled in the roots of the oak, which was planted in 1909 to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday.
The most complete skeleton, the one which gave Ms Carbo the fright of her life, was that of an adult male whose body showed few signs of a life of physical labour, meaning he may have been from a higher social strata. The other remains included a child aged 7-9, possibly male; two children aged 3-4, one probably male and the other probably female; and a second adult. In addition, there were fragments from two other individuals.
The researchers also found brass tacks, which identified coffins dating from 1770 to 1830, as well as preserved hair and tissue samples, which will be used to determine gender, ethnicity and other health-related information in the months ahead.
Gary P. Aronsen, a research associate in the anthropology department at Yale University, was asked whether DNA testing could determine possible descendants still living in New Haven. He replied: “Is it possible? Yes. Is it something we’re pursuing? Not at this time.”
Aronsen explained how his team had studied historical records from the 1790s which suggested that the bodies were likely buried after one of the city’s frequent epidemics, such as an outbreak of scarlet fever in 1794.
The researchers also discovered a pair of time capsules encased in cement beneath the Lincoln Oak when it was planted. Their contents, which were revealed earlier this year, included coins, letters, newspapers, roster lists, a grapeshot ball and a bullet from the battlefield at Gettysburg, and a medal from the Grand Army of the Republic.
State archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni said that the insertion of the time capsules in 1909 had partially disturbed the remains of the child who had been buried with a clay marble. That marble was actually stuck in the time capsule cement, along with a portion of bone.
Bellantoni said: “No question they hit that child. Whether they were aware of it, we have no indication.”
Source: New Haven Register