[REDACTED] Unmarked Burial Protocol
Town of Swanton, Franklin County, Vermont
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
July 9, 2008
The Town of Swanton's [REDACTED] Unmarked Burial Protocol (Zoning Bylaws Section 3.17 Native American Sites District) requires that an archaeological investigation shall be conducted on house development projects where ground disturbance will reach or exceed 18 inches below surface to ensure that any unmarked human graves are not inadvertently disturbed during house construction. The [REDACTED] Native American Sites District, located in the Towns of Swanton and Highgate, contains an extraordinary collection of ancient Abenaki burial grounds and habitation sites, some of which have been exposed and disturbed over the last 35 years largely resulting from residential development. The most notable of these cemeteries are [REDACTED] the [REDACTED] where thousands of human skeletal remains representing hundreds of Abenaki ancestors have been documented dating back at least 2500 years ago and as recent as the 19th century. Mnay more burial grounds are expected to exist within this portion of the Missisquoi Abenaki traditional homeland and the zoning law was enacted to help protect these extremely sacred areas. When necessary archaeological studies are conducted the Vermont Burial Fund is used to help pay for these investigations to alleviate the town and landowners from any financial burden.
[REDACTED] owns a resident within the [REDACTED] Native American Site District (Fugure 1) in the Town of Swanton and filed an Application for Building Permit #49-2008 to construct a 28 foot by 20 foot addition to his existing house (Photo 1). The property is located at [REDACTED] out 800 feet south [REDACTED] and approximately 150 feet north of the Missisquoi River (Figure 2). Construction of the house addition foundation would require excavation to a depth of six and a half feet which triggered the need for an archaeological monitoring investigation.
Figure 1. Project location shown on the East Alburg and Highgate Center USGS quad maps.
On June 26, 2008 I [David Skinas] monitored the excavation of the house addition foundation (Photo 2). A straight-edge bucket was used on the excavator that removed soil below the plowzone in a 4-6 inch increments (Photo 3). An approximately four foot deep water line trench that extended from the well to the house was exposed, and a narrow twelve inch deep cable trench was also observed during the excavation.
Figure 2. Location of the house addition.
There was no evidence of any unmarked human burials, grave shaftes, inhumations, cremations or red ochre features observed during the controlled monitoring of the house addition. No precontact Native American artifacts were identified, but a possible cultural feature similar to a fire pit was exposed in the top three inches (7cm) of the B horizon that was located at about 8 feet west of the existing foundation wall and approximately 10 feet north of the south wall (Photo 4). The approximately 16 inch (40 cm) diameter feature was quickly cross-sectioned and in profile the stain ranged in depth from 2-8 inches (5-20 cm) below surface with the deeper end located along the northern edge of the feature. No stone tools, waste flakes, other artifacts, calcined bone or unburned bone were contained within or near the feature to confirm that this soil stain was the result of a precontact or contact period Native American activity. In the northwest corner of the addition a decayed tree stump stain was exposed. No other soil anomalies were observed during the investigation. It does not appear that construction of the [REDACTED] house addition will disturb or destroy any unmarked Abenaki burials.
Photo 1. Location of the house addition marked in orange paint, facing south.
Photo 2. Shows the extent of the house addition foundation, facing north.
Photo 3. Shows the straight-edged bucket removing a 46 inch of the upper B horizon.
Photo 4. Shows the top of the dark, charcoal infused soil stain identified in the upper B horizon.
2008 Reinternment of Abenaki Human Remains found at the Medical Examiner's Office
On December 20, 2007 the State Archaeologist contacted Chief April St. Francis-Merrill of the Missisquoi Abenaki asking her to take charge of and properly re-inter the remains of several Native American burials contained within three boxes that had just been discovered in the State Medical Examiner's Office. This transfer of remains to the Missisquoi tribe was conducted with the knowledge and approval of the State Archaeologist and the Vermont Division for Historic preservation. All necessary burial transit and reinterment permits were obtained from the City of Burlington, Town of Alburg and Town of Highgate. These boxes had little locational information describing where these human remains came from but some notations on the box labels indicated that they originated from Alburg, Colchester and the Monument Road area of Highgate. Prior to the removal of the burials from the Medical Examiner's Office staff from the UVM Consulting Archaeological Program inventoried the remains. The results of that inventory are presented below:
Medical Examiner's Unidentified Skeletal Remains Inventory
Visited Jan 11 2008
UVM Consulting Archaeological Program
This designation of skeletal elements will serve as a basic inventory of the human remains and non human artifacts that were most recently stored at the Burlington VT Medical Examiner's Office. Two bankers' boxes contained a miscellany of bones with little to no provenience information and unknown relation to one another. To get a sense of what was present, we laid out the skeletal elements from each box and analyzed the contents of each bag or singular element within. Each element was photographed and recorded on an Isolated Bone Recording Form. We could not assume that elements within each bag were necessarily associated with one another or with singular elements also in the box; therefore, our minimum numb of individuals may seem broad. In some cases, we assigned a bag number to skeletal elements previously stored with one another for ease of reference. In all cases, we attempted to discern as much information about the remains as possible before their imminent return to the Abenaki Tribal Council.In box 3, we dealt with a total of 15 separate bags and 2 isolated elements. We estimate an MNI of 58, though the number of individuals represented in this box more likely approximates 17 or so. This box also contained a number of non human remains, including skeletal elements primarily of Odocoileus virginianus (deer), but also Lutra Canadensis (otter), Bos taurus (cow), Ursus (bear) and other unidentified small mammals. Among the deer bones were multiple modified bone tools.On these deer bone tools were catalog numbers Jess Robinson recognized as being from UVM's Fleming Museum. Robinson located an American Anthropologist article entitled "Aboriginal Remains in the Champlain Valley" by G. H. Perkins (1909). This article refers to ...
... these bone tools and features a few of them in plate XXXIV (617). Perkins reports that the artifacts were recovered by D. B. Griffin from the "bank of a large creek that flows into Mallets bay" (615).Griffin and Mallet's Bay are also present on another skeletal element in Box 3, a fragmented human skull enclosed in a bag labeled "Bones from Clay in Mallets Creek Indian Encampment D.B. Griffin 1910." Few of the other human remains in this box are identified by excavator or original site, but several bags are contained in bags labeled "from graves on Missisquoi River, Highgate VT." Please refer to the table of Elements for a complete list of the inventory in this box.In Box 11, there were 9 previously established identification numbers and 5 elements with no bag or tag of any kind. We determine an MNI of 19. Among the separately bagged elements in this box, the only group spanning several bags with the same catalog number (20) was determined to be almost positively from the same individual. Although there were few elements to pair, this individual had a level of osteoarthritic osteophyte growth that related the elements to one another.There were no catalog numbers on the bones in this box; only one element was identified with writing on the bone itself. A complete skull that seems to have been treated for display has writing on the frontal bone reading "2161 Swan Creek retain" "1523cc." No further information on a Swan Creek burial has been located as of yet. Please refer to the table of Elements Present for a complete list of the inventory in this box provided below.
The 2009 Trombley Recovery Project, Town of Swanton, Franklin County, Vt.
In July of 2009 a 1700 year old intact ceramic vessel was recovered during an archaeological investigation triggered by the Town of Swanton's Monument Road Unmarked Burial zoning. This zoning law is designed to identify and protect unmarked burials from destruction during house development along Monument Road where many Abenaki burial grounds have been disturbed over the last 30+ years. Staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Scott Dillon of the Vt. Division for Historic Preservation worked in collaboration with Chief April St. Francis-Merrill, of the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi, the Town of Swanton and the landowners to conduct this investigation. This project is located at the edge of the significant 2,000+ year old Boucher Cemetery site VT-FR-26. Shovel test pits were excavated at 5 meter intervals within the project area. The ceramic pot was encountered at 34 cm below surface and was laying on its side facing westerly wedged in that position with one and perhaps two stones. The absence of habitation remains one the site suggests that this isolated vessel was placed on an Abenaki burial and either the bones have completely dissolved in the acidic soils or the vessel contains a cremation burial. The pot was successfully extracted from the ground in one piece and brought to tribal headquarters in Swanton for safe keeping and analysis. John Crock and Jess Robinson of the UVM Consulting Archaeology Program assisted Scott Dillon and me to document the vessel. The pot's pseudo scallop shell decorative style dated the Missisquoi Jar to Peterson's Ceramic Period 2 at approximately AD 300. As the jar slowly dried several cracks formed on the exterior making the vessel extremely fragile. Under the direction of Steve Shapiro, the State Medical Examiner, we conducted a CT scan of the vessel to determine the stability of the pot, produce a three dimensional image of the vessel and more importantly to analyze the contents to determine if any burned bone or other evidence of human remains were contained in the jar. The results of the CT scan are phenomenal and more analysis is planned. This imaging technology allows us to examine the jar without having to remove the contents that would destabilize the vessel.Unfortunately, the housing project was allowed to proceed with an approved zoning permit because only one burial was encountered. The Swanton Unmarked Burial zoning that is limited to Monument Road requires that more than three graves must be found within a 1,000 square foot square area before a project can be stopped. I did monitor the excavation of the house foundation, utility lines and septic area but no other graves or artifacts were observed. Because of the Missisquoi Jar may be assocatied with a burial it is against the Abenaki belief system to display such sacred objects. We hope to provide the VAS membership with the images of the CT scan in the near future.
David Skinas USDA NRCS Chief April St. Francis-Merrill
St. Francis/Sokoki Band
Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi