LAKE GEORGE — Human remains found last week during digging for a housing project could be those of Revolutionary War soldiers and the site may have been an 18th-century burial site, according to Lake George town officials.
In all, authorities believe the bones found at the site in recent days could be from as many as 10 people, all dating back to at least the 1800s.
“We found a few buttons that have some markings on them, the likes of which were not usually found in French and Indian War battles and outfits,” said Dan Barusch, director of planning and zoning for the town and village, at Monday’s Lake George Town Board meeting.
Barusch said these findings are still preliminary and warrant further investigation.
The contractor for the project first discovered the bones Thursday during excavation for a housing project, which is located at the intersection of Courtland and Mohican streets. Barusch and Warren County Sheriff Bud York said since then, more remains have been found at the site. The remains are laid out in small 3-foot by 4-foot plots, according to Barusch.
“It was very clear that this was a very organized and really structured burial ground,” he said.
York said there were no remains of coffins found with the bones.
A tarp has been put around the construction site, according to Barusch. The snow hitting he region likely would have halted whatever the developer’s plans were for the site this week.
“What’s been excavated so far is only half the property,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest finds in recent history.”
The property had once been home to Whispering Pines Cabins and is being developed for new homes.
Michael Borgos, attorney for the developer, said the work at the site has stopped. Two, three-unit apartment buildings were planned.
Borgos said the cellar foundation had been laid for the first of two planned buildings. The employee was piling up the sand that the bulldozer had brought down to grade and noticed the bones. He contacted Ellsworth and shut down the site.
“We want to treat these things with the utmost respect,” he said.
Archaeologist David Starbuck visited and determined that the skull fragments found were not Native American but of European descent.
The developer realized later Friday that this was not an isolated instance of a burial. He noticed some discoloration in the soil and in the wall of the excavation, which would indicate that there is a planned burial vault.
“Unfortunately, the machine had disturbed almost all of the site before anybody noticed anything,” Borgos said.
Archaeologists and state and local officials, including representatives from the state Historic Preservation Office, New York State Museum and village and town officials, returned to the site Monday.
“They are excited about some of the finds they made,” he said.
Borgos said the buttons were found on the chest area of some remains, and archaeologists concluded that they were from a military-style coat. He said there was more information about the buttons, but he did not wish to disclose them until later in the week.
“The archaeological community is very excited about this,” he said. (Village) Mayor (Robert) Blais is very excited about this. It’s always nice to have more of our military history of Lake George being explored and this is a new discovery that could tell us a lot more about the role of the military in these parts.”
The Warren County Sheriff's Office will be patrolling the site to prevent unauthorized access, according to Borgos.
“There seemed to be some additional remains to be gathered,” he added.
The problem is that the sand walls are collapsing and some of those skeletal remains are coming down with them, according to Borgos.
“They’re going to try to capture as much information as they possibly can before those walls collapse any further,” he said.
That portion of the project is on hold, according to Borgos.
“There will not be any more construction until the archaeological clearance is obtained,” he said.
Borgos said this could be a full-blown field study.
“There’s going to be a significant financial cost to them,” he added.
Still, he said the Ellsworths wanted to do the right thing and give these remains a proper military burial.
“It’s nice. It seems like everybody is pulling together to do the right thing,” he said.