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Skeletons Unearthed in Connecticut May Belong to Revolutionary War Soldiers

If confirmed, the bones would be the first remains recovered from Revolutionary War soldiers in the Constitution State

“Their bone size indicates that they were probably militiamen,” says archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni. "Their femur bones show that they clearly walked a lot and carried a lot of weight back in their day.” (Courtesy of the Keeler Tavern Museum)
smithsonianmag.com

Construction workers renovating a home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, last month were surprised to discover human bones under the property’s foundation.

The homeowners called the police, the police called the medical examiner’s office, and—after inspecting the bones on December 2—a medical examiner called the Connecticut Office of State Archaeology. Although experts were able to garner some information from the excavation site, researchers are now completing a more in-depth medical analysis of the three skeletons.

Based on the lack of organic matter and the way the bones flaked, the police and medical examiner determined that the remains were at least a century old, if not two, reports Chris Ehrmann for the Associated Press.

The sheer size of the bones offered insight into the sex and fitness level of the people who were buried.

“These were big guys,” archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni told the Ridgefield Press Stephen Coulter in December. “… Their bone size indicates that they were probably militiamen. Their femur bones show that they clearly walked a lot and carried a lot of weight back in their day.”

Ridgefield was the site of Connecticut’s only inland Revolutionary War battle. On April 27, 1777, American militiamen, some led by the notorious Benedict Arnold, intercepted British troops retreating after an attack on Continental Army supplies the day prior. The Battle of Ridgefield left one particularly visible scar: a British cannonball still lodged in a corner post of the Keeler Tavern Museum today, though at the time the building was simply called the Keeler Tavern.

If analysis confirms that the bones come from the 1777 clash, the find will mark the first time Revolutionary War soldiers’ remains have been recovered from a battlefield in Connecticut.

“We hope to solve this riddle,” said Bellantoni to Coulter. “We have a working hypothesis and some very compelling evidence to back it up but there’s no direct evidence yet that these were Revolutionary War soldiers. That determination will be made through the lab work and that takes a few months.”

According to the Milford Mirror’s Katrina Koerting, the three men were buried in a rush, so experts’ leading theory is that they were either British or colonists fighting for the British. Archaeologists found the skeletons piled on top of each other in a single grave only three or four feet deep. And though Bellantoni tells Coulter the hole was dug haphazardly, he adds that the grave diggers took care to bury the men in an east-to-west orientation, per Christian tradition.

The first skeleton, found with about 90 percent of its bones intact, underwent MRI and CT scans on January 6. Five buttons found on one skeleton’s chest have yet to be analyzed but might confirm the role the men played when they were alive. Because the skeletons are so well preserved, DNA from their teeth may even reveal their identities by pointing researchers toward present day descendants.

“There aren’t that many skeletons known from this time period, and certainly not from Connecticut,” anthropologist Jaime Ullinger tells Koerting. “Hopefully, whether they’re soldiers or farmers, this can tell us about health at this time period.”

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