LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – While National Grid worked near a restaurant in Lake George it made a discovery, human remains that are believed to be from the Revolutionary War. Experts said the remains were in an unmarked grave and likely the first protected under a new law.
The company’s gas crews were working on a gas line near the Lobster Pot restaurant on October 17 when they found a human skull. According to National Grid, all work was stopped and has not yet resumed. It was reported to the Town of Lake George.
“In this case we think we have a pretty good idea already. This is an area where there have been human remains found since the 1800s. On this particular lot there’s been at least seven different instances when graves have been found,” said Lisa Anderson, the curator of bioarchaelogy at the New York State Museum.
“In that general area there’s been at least 18 times that graves have been found and we believe most of them are from the Revolutionary War.”
The New York State Museum and the Department of Environmental Conservation (D.E.C.) got involved in the excavation. Archaeologists recovered the remains on October 25 and 26.
New York State law required some projects to involve archaeologists from the beginning but it was legal to desecrate unmarked graves up until August. New York was one of only four states in the country that allowed destruction of unmarked burials. Now, accidental discoveries like this one have protocols under a new law.
“I think this is the first instance where we’ve seen this new burial law in action,” said Charles Vandrei, the historic preservation officer and archaeologist for D.E.C.’s Office of Indian Nation Affairs.
The Unmarked Burial Protection Act – which tribal nations have advocated for, for years – requires anyone who comes across remains to cease digging and call the coroner or medical examiner in the county where they were found. If a coroner determines the remains are over 50 years old the remains are handed over to New York State Museum archaeologists.
“I think we were glad to see the law actually work in this case so it was a good test,” said Anderson.
She said there are connections to remains found in 2019. Vandrei explains there was one particular instance in 2019 that prompted a massive discovery in Lake George.
“That lack of protection is exactly why the Courtland Street situation happened because the developer essentially dug all these graves up and piled the remains along the street and there was really no consequences, in terms of legal responsibilities, but now that’s changed,” said Vandrei.
The museum is working on adding the latest unearthed remains into its catalog for the Courtland Street Burial Ground. In 2019 more than 40 remains were unearthed there, just up the block from the Lobster Pot restaurant.
Vandrei said after 2019 they began to learn more about the area’s history. In 1776 there was a general hospital located at Lake George, formerly Fort George, and smallpox had raged through the army at that time.
Although not approved just yet, Vandrei said they’ve been working with the army to find a reinterment location. “Battlefield Park” is the proposed name for the new resting place of the unearthed soldiers.
Local resident Rich Hansen said the recent discovery makes him feel closer to history. “You’re just a part of what’s happened, this is where it all began, the history of our country. This is where it all started.”