Native American Burials and Cemeteries in Eastern Connecticut

    ACS conducted a research survey of Native American burials and cemeteries for the Connecticut Historical Commission. The project was designed to identify and evaluate sites and remains as they pertain to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The project also revealed significant patterns of cultural behavior and change in mortuary practices which led to new interpretations of cultural adaptations in Connecticut prehistory. This highly sensitive research project required a confidential treatment of information from many sources, including Native American tribes, state site files, academic and professional archaeologists, local historians, private collectors, and historic literature.

Distribution of documented Native American burial sites and historic cemeteries in eastern Connecticut. Prehistoric burial locations designated by triangles, historic cemeteries designated by squares, chronologically undetermined burial sites designated by circles.

    Late Archaic cremation sites were found to occur in formalized settings away from habitation sites, an indication of semi-sedentary settlement patterns for at least a portion of the population. The elaborate nature of cremation sites by the Terminal Archaic suggests that the representatives of the Susquehanna Tradition had some control over restricted and critical resources. These resources included transportation routes, as well as steatite which was traded throughout the Northeast for the production of ceremonial objects and portable containers. The widespread development of ceramics during the Early Woodland period led to the decline of steatite as a rare and valuable resource, along with an associated decline of ceremonialism.

    Skeletal remains which were partially preserved by copper compounds from funerary objects in Early Woodland sites indicate a 2,500-year limit for skeletal preservation in the region and that non-elite Narrow Point burials of the Late and Terminal Archaic are merely missing due to preservation factors. Late Woodland burials are represented by primary inhumations which are generally flexed, often oriented to the southwest as the legendary source of corn and direction of the Spirit Land, without durable funerary objects, and scattered in habitation settings. These burial conditions suggest an egalitarian setting for the Late Woodland despite agricultural resource intensification, which in turn supports the contention that agriculture never led to large economic surpluses or centralized control over critical resources in the region.

    Contact period burials more consistently express a southwest orientation and ceremonial character despite the disruption to aboriginal adaptations following the Euroamerican invasion. When these adaptations became impossible during the 18th Century, Christianity was more readily accepted by Native Americans, as indicated by epitaphs on headstones and east-west burial orientations. Burials were clustered, but now in marginal settings as Native Americans were effectively divested of prime agricultural land. The obfuscation of steatite during the Early Woodland and the disruption to settlement patterns during the Contact period were associated with latent forms of ceremonial mortuary practices, indicating that ideological structures were more resistant to change than many economic aspects of Native American adaptations.

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