Vandalism and desecration of historical, sacred, and archaeological sites has been a continued trend, often caused by natural curiosity of the people and objects who once largely occupied much of what is now the Americas and Long Island.
Occasionally, more heinous and tragic examples of desecration have occurred; including physical disruptions/looting of ancestral Indian burial grounds.
For the project On This Site, the locations of sites have been approximated, aside from those that have historical markers encouraging visitors. The purpose of sharing these excerpts of vandalism are to highlight theneed for continued consciousness towards preserving the sensitive tangible and spiritual essesnces of these sites.
Ayeuonganit Aunakésuck Muhhogkunk, also known as Burying Point, is a now desecrated 18th century Montaukett burying ground and arrowhead workshop. Both traditional stone grave markers and contemporary headstones were found and moved from the area for residential development.
In 1928, archaeologist Roy Latham discovered graves after they had been partially destroyed by the developer and vandalized by people of Amagansett who had run off with two copper buckets, spoons, and other large articles.[Gaynell Stone, The History and Archaeology of the Montauk Vol 3, 1993 pp. 608]
Both traditional stone grave markers and contemporary headstones were found and moved from the area for residential development. [1. Jeannette Edwards Rattray, Montauk - Three Centuries of Sport and Adventure, 1938 pp. 13]
On Monday, August 13th, 2018, skeleton remains were found during residential development on Hawthrone Road in the Shinnecock Hills. The developers and homeowners contacted the Southampton Town and Suffolk County police department, who quickly disturbed the ground further for evidence of recent criminal activity. Along with human remains, a glass bottle from the 17th-century contact period was found, indicating a likelihood of the remains being of Native American descent with burial offerings. The Shinnecock Indian Nation arrived on the site soon after the detectives with the goal of overlooking the development. If the remains are from Native descent, the tribe encourages the town to use it's Community Preservation Fund to preserve the lot and respect the burial.
According to Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs, police investigators were not following proper state and federal protocols for Native American sensitive sites and repeatedly denied his request to order the private work crew at the site to stop digging.
“For them to just come out and say that it’s not one of our ancestors is basically to cover up their complete failure to observe protocols,” Mr. Gumbs said on Wednesday. “Our leaders were buried with those flasks. It was pretty clear that this wasn’t a crime scene.” [1. http://www.27east.com/mobile/article.cfm/Hampton-Bays/566747/Skeletal-Remains-Found-At-Construction-Site-In-Shinnecock-Hills]
Jo-Ann McLean, a Professional Archaeologist conducting Cultural Research Management on the East End for 30 years, and a Freelance Writer for The East End Beacon also wrote an article in support of preserving the lot and archaeological significance of the finding;
Viewpoint: Is Nothing Sacred Anymore? by Jo-Ann McLean September 7, 2018
Knowing full well that, during the construction of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, intact Native American burial mounds had been converted to obstacles in front of some greens, while others had been converted into bunkers, I was nevertheless unmoved in 2000 by groups of picketing Native Americans claiming that the Parrish Pond development property, across the highway, south of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club was sacred ground. I clearly did not understand the message.
An archaeological survey declared the property generally non-sensitive for pre-contact materials. The term ‘sacred” under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) is equated to the rarest of finds, human burials, the only find that can stop construction.
For archaeologists conducting cultural resource management on lands slated for development in New York State, archaeological sensitivity resides in the physical presence of material culture…the concept of the sacred, in any form other than burials, had not yet made it into the mix. Thus, the land was given the go ahead for development.
That was nearly twenty years ago and little has changed out here since. European Americans are still land grabbing and the dominant European American culture is still dictating Shinnecock access to their traditional lands in one of the most highly segregated communities in the U.S.
In general the Indians remain poor and reservation constrained, where cancer, poverty and alcoholism have replaced small pox as a way of extermination. Even with federal recognition, the balance of power has not changed.
This has recently been demonstrated, once again, on Hawthorne Street, a wooded lot in an established neighborhood in the Shinnecock Hills. Many years ago, an adjacent property was designated “sensitive for archaeological remains” and nine of its acres were preserved, with the balance developed. And yet, the developer of the one-third acre on Hawthorne was not required to perform a Cultural Resources Survey under SEQR before excavation began.
On August 13, human remains there were dismembered by a backhoe.
An associated artifact, an early 18th Century glass bottle, is clearly reminiscent of the early 18th Century burials at the famous Pantigo Site in East Hampton. Such sites are of enormous interest to archaeologists, who work to understand the life ways of Native groups on the East End of Long Island hundreds and thousands of years ago, but more importantly, they are sacrosanct to the Shinnecock Nation, a federally recognized tribe.
For the Shinnecock, the Hills that carry their name are hallowed ground. They simply want them protected, or at very best preserved.
At the heart of the Shinnecock struggle for sovereignty, self-determination, identity and religious freedom is a misunderstanding by the dominant culture of native belief systems and spirituality, which stems from the dominant society’s dismissal of the indigenous knowledge base and a lingering conviction in the inequality of races.
So while misconceptions about the significance of sacred sites such as the Shinnecock Hills suffice as the apparent reason that justice eludes Native Indians on Long Island, the more salient reason, even though the archaeology demonstrates a clear and ancient connection to the land and its sacred components, is a deep disrespect for Native Indian culture as it is practiced here, and a palpable undercurrent of dominance, racism and distrust attached to the fact that the legitimacy of Native land claims may divest the wealthy of their holdings.
John Strong, Ph.D., the respected Long Island historian and author, has elsewhere delineated the negative stereotypes used to justify alienation of Native Americans on Long Island. The arguement that the tribe lacked racial purity was contrived by colonists as a category to divest the Shinnecock of their identity. Therefore, marginalization was accomplished not simply based on eradication of the Shinnecock traditional life ways and lands. It was achieved by racial stereotyping about mixed blood categories.
It seems that Native Americans simply couldn’t do anything right while maintaining their indigenous world view. Their cultural and spiritual ways were regarded as primitive, intermarriage with other ‘races’ denigrated Europeans’ conception of their ‘Indianness,’ and the tribe’s attempts at accommodation to colonists’ demands heralded a death knell to their traditional way of life. Any excuse at all was seized, devised and invented to deny them their birthright.
Western categories such as racial stereotyping persists on Long Island, but the Shinnecock are reaffirming their traditional living culture to honor their ancestors and to fortify their traditions. They are again defining themselves in Indian terms, where blood quantum is not an issue.
Considerations of legitimacy should be behind them. They have gained Federal recognition, yet locally they remain powerless to protect the graves of their ancestors, which dot the Shinnecock Hills, and are being destroyed by construction or lie undisturbed in so many Southampton backyards.
The time has come for an Unmarked Burial Protection Policy in the Town of Southampton. The time has come for the neighbors of the Shinnecock Nation to acknowledge the deference this ancient culture would garner were they not dispossessed of their land, were they still harvesting local resources and were they still, as custom dictated, ceremoniously burying their dead in the sacred Shinnecock Hills.
Manitou Hill is a sacred hill located on what is now known as Manetto Hill in Plainview, New York. An oral story, recorded by historian Gabriel Furman in 1874, describes a legend during a great drought. The Manitou instructs a sachem through a dream to stand at the top of Manetto Hill and fire an arrow into the air, and on the spot where the arrow lands, people should dig until they find water. The water spring that was found, called Mascopas, is now beneath a local high school athletic field. Manitou is known in traditional systems as the powerful and unseen power throughout the universe, being present during moments of the miraculous and mysterious.
There was a sacred fresh water pond at the foot of the hill is called "Mascopas," according to local historians Iris and Alonzo Gibbs, is now under the local athletic field of John F. Kennedy High School [1. Gibbs, Iris and Alonzo Gibbs, Mannetto: Diety or Hill?, Long Island Forum 44, 1981: pp. 10-11]
Noyack was once a village site with evidence of dwellings, burials, cooking hearths, animal remains, and tools. Evidence of both Niantic culture and Sebonic culture are found in the area. Noyack takes its name from the long point or neck of land now known as Jessup's Neck, at one time called "Farrington's Point." [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911, pp. 166]
A small six by six Niantic pot was found during a 1928 excavation by the Long Island Chapter of the N.Y.S.A.A. After leaving and returning in a one week period, the pottery had disappeared and was lost. [1. Roy Latham, A Review of the Noyac Site, The Bulletin Number 20, 1960, pp. 3]
Pahquahkossit is a winter camp site located in what is now known as Wading River. Based on pre-fishtail arrowheads found, the site is identified as an archaic period settlement, with evidence of occupation as early as 2595 BC.
It is believed that Pahquahkossit has been completely destroyed by the new decommissioned Shoreham Nuclear Powerplant.
The Stony Brook Site is a prehistoric Indian Village located in the town of Stony Brook, New York, often described as an area on the North Store of "Aunt Amy's Creek." Found in 1956 and later excavated by William A. Ritchie in 1959, Ritchie describes the component as "Indians [who] are believed to be of the pre-ceramic archaic group who wandered from one semi-permanent camp to the next from c. 3000 B.C to 1000 B.C." In 1981, Edward Johannemann, director of the Long Island Archaeological Project at the State University at Stony Brook, described the site as a 3,000 year old weapons factory. [1. Tracing L.I. Life 3,000 Years Ago. NY Times Judi Culbertson 1981] The written report of this site describes the contemporary landscape as an "Area possibly destroyed by housing development."
The written report of this site describes the contemporary landscape as an "Area possibly destroyed by housing development."
Sugar Loaf Hill is an Orient Period burial site facing southeastern, the only Orient burial site known outside of the North Fork of Long Island. During the 20th century, despite being known and marked on maps as early as 1797, the burial grounds were desecrated and developed for a contemporary residence. After years of pleas by the Shinnecock Indian Nation to save ancestral burial grounds in the Sugar Loaf Hill area of Southampton, there was a victory in 2021 after 30 years: The Southampton town board voted unanimously to green-light a $5.3 million purchase of a conservation easement for 4.5 acres at the peak of Sugar Loaf Hill with assistance of the local non-profit Peconic Land Trust.
The Sugar Loaf Hill Burial Site has been desecrated by housing development.
Below is a letter by Roberta Hunter and Lori Beth Jensen in the 1989 Southampton Press
To the Editor:
The Following a copy of a letter to Town Supervisor Mardythe DiPirro and the councilmembers of the Town Board, submitted for publication by the authors:
Dear Mrs. DiPirro and Town Council Members:
We, the concerned members of the Shinnecock community, the Shinnecock Coalition against the desecration of Sugar Loaf Hill, are contacting you to express our anguish over the destruction of our ancient burial grounds and to seek your support in facilitating action against further desecrations. We are aware that you have been appraised of this situation. However, to this date, there has been no official town action taken and we are greatly disappointed.
Sugar Loaf Hill has been destroyed. We propose a public policy that protects archaeologically sensitive areas from destruction. We have watched the town spend time and money to preserve and highlight the relics of colonial past. (This colonial history is a relatively short one in comparison.) Therefore, we, the concerned members of the Shinnecock community, urge the town to acknowledge and to preserve ancient native American culture as a unique part of the "collective" East End history.
As members of the Sugar Loaf Hill Coalition, we are urging you to take this opportunity to be in solidarity with the aspirations of the Shinnecock people by the following:
1. Issuing a public resolution condemning the desecration of Sugar Loaf Hill.
2. Issuing a public resolution that commits the town to efforts preventing this from happening again.
3. Working with archaeologists to identify sites and to restrict developers from desecrating those sites.
4. Pursuing a course of response similar to our town neighbors of Brookhaven and East Hampton.
5. Adopting recommendations made to your governing body on November 25, 1988, by Professor John Strong of Long Island University, Southampton Campus.
Plots of this historic significance are sacred. These plots are our ancient "cemeteries" and must be recognized and protected. They represent the ancient Shinnecock tradition. They must be regarded as an irreplaceable and integral part of Long Island history. Effective planning and prevention are paramount to avoid future desecration of ancient Indian culture.
As concerned members of the Shinnecock community, we will continue to impress upon you and members of the Town Council that archaeological sites can, and should be, protected. Effective communication between the Shinnecock community and the Town Hall officials leads the way to achieve the goals that we have presented to you. [1. Historic Significance. (1989). Southampton, NY: Southampton Press.]
May we all work in harmony.
Lori Beth Jensen
Sugar Loaf Hill Coalition
The Wading River Site is the oldest clearly-dated archaic period village site located near the mouth of the Wading River, an ideal place to draw food resources from the freshwater stream and Long Island sound. It's sheltered location protected the villagers from the cold north and western winds, signifying it's use in the winter, while abundant shellfish remains show spring and summer occupation; thus the site was used year-round. This camp, according to Ritchie who studied the site in 1955-56, was part of a migratory chain of short distanced camps that were occupied based on seasonal shifts. No post holes were found in the area, suggesting temporary housing used for migratory living.
The Wading River site was obliterated during the construction of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant during 1973-1984. Due to public opposition and protest, the plant was fully decommissioned in 1994. [1. https://web.archive.org/web/20071201005429/http://www.newsday.com/community/guide/lihistory/ny-history-hs9shore,0,563942.story]
Wegwagonock was once a large settlement in what is now the northern shore of Sag Harbor town. In around 1846, the ground containing burials and evidence of an Indian village were destroyed and used as stability material for the ship and oil yards.
William Wallace Tooker describes the destruction of Wegwagonock in 1896;
A large portion of the elevation, on the southern slopes of which the most compact part of the village had been situated, was leveled about 50 years ago [ca 1846, today's Bay Street waterfront.] and its contents distributed over the adjoining meadow in order to increase the area and stability of the ship and oil yards of Mulford and Sleight. The writer was informed by William R. Sleight that human bones, supposed to have been bones of Indians, very frail and decayed, were unearthed during the excavating; but if any object aboriginal were deposited with them at the time of burial, they were overlooked in the haste of carelessness of the digging.
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