Three skeletons, possibly Revolutionary War soldiers, found under Ridgefield house
Human skeletal remains — possibly belonging to Revolutionary War soldiers who fought in the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777 — were discovered under the foundation of an early 18th-century house last week.
The Connecticut Office of State Archaeology was notified by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner about the find on Dec. 2.
Subsequent excavations by the state archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, with assistance from the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology Inc. and University of Connecticut graduate students, have yielded two more skeletons.
“One has been completely excavated already and is in the medical examiner’s office and we’re working on these other two,” said Bellantoni, who began working on the site on Dec. 3.
Bellantoni noted that all three skeletons were “robust adult men lying in an east-west orientation in ground that appears to be haphazardly dug.”
“The sex is sometimes hard to determine in some of these cases but this one was easy,” Bellantoni told Hearst Connecticut Media at the excavation site on Wednesday. “There’s no question we’re dealing with men.”
“These were big guys. They definitely weren’t couch potatoes. Their bone size indicates that they were probably militiamen. Their femur bones show that they clearly walked a lot and and carried a lot of weight back in their day,” he added. “Were they carrying cannons or other artillery? We don’t know what their role was exactly yet but part of our interpretation of this scene is that these were soldiers. They were buried in a tight pit and buried hastily — one was put in first and the second one was thrown on top of him. And based on the east-to-west orientation of how they were buried indicates they belonged to a Christian society where that was the burial custom.”
Bellantoni said that the skeletons were found “contorted and confined” in a hole that was relatively shallow —about three to four feet below the gravel floor of the home’s basement.
“We’ve been in the field for five days and done a lot in those five days but we were hoping it would go a little bit quicker. It’s been slower than I would have liked,” he added. “The soil in this area is like clay and that’s slowed us down some. It’s hard packed so we’ve had to work pretty carefully.”
The homeowners were planning a renovation of the basement when a construction crew found the first skeleton. The homeowner called the Ridgefield Police Department, who notified the medical examiner’s office after it was determined the bones were more than 50 years old.
“By law, the police have to investigate any discovery in case there’s an open case that is of criminal interest,” Bellantoni explained. “Once it was determined that this collection of bones was at least a hundred years old — possibly even 200 years old — they were able to contact the ME who then turned to the Office of State Archaeology.”
Despite some frustrations digging out the skeletons, Bellantoni was optimistic about what the excavation could yield. He said that this discovery would be the first time that Revolutionary War soldiers from the field of battle have been recovered in the state of Connecticut.
“We hope to solve this riddle,” he said. “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. We potentially won’t know for sure until the spring 2020. ... Their teeth are in pretty good shape and that’s important for DNA forensics. We could eventually figure out their diet and that might tell us who’s side they were on. It’s amazing what science can do ...
“... Potentially we could put names to these three but that’s way down the road,” Bellantoni added. “We’re at a fun intersection of where archaeology, history and forensics all meet. There’s a lot of potential here to provide real insights into what happened to these men during and after the Battle of Ridgefield.”