Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Englebert Site

This past weekend I was sent news articles that reported that all of the remains and artifacts from the Englebert site will be given to the Onondaga Nation as the result of a NAGPRA agreement that was made some years ago.

There are so many issues in my opinion concerning this that at first I did not even know where to begin with it. As a result, I decided to begin with just a small spattering of some direct quotes from our earliest known historical records about the Andastes and their relationship with the Iroquois Nation and specifically the Onondaga Nation. The following are actual accounts from Jesuit missionary priests who lived among the Iroquois in the 17th century. I am giving you the volume and basic year so that you the reader can read as much as you like from these accounts. ALL can be accessed from http://www.spanishhill.com/jesuit_relations/

PREFACE TO Jesuit Relations VOL. XLV (1659)
“Lalemant (Jesuit priest) sketches the history, character, and political condition of the Iroquois tribes. They had been, in the past, defeated and crushed by both the Algonkins and the Andastes; but, of late, have in turn almost annihilated those tribes.

MISSION OF ONNONTAGUÉ.(Onondaga) Jesuit Relations VOL. LIX. (1675)
FATHER Jean de Lamberville is at Onnontague; this is the village of the third nation, where Garakontié continues to give evidence of his firmness in the faith, and of his friendship for the French.

The Father has acquired great influence by his skill in using various remedies. This gives him entrance to all the cabins and access to all the sick, so that few escape who are not baptized before they die. In addition to his occupation in Onnontagué, he is compelled from time to time to make excursions in the vicinity. On the last one that he made, ten leagues from the village, he fortunately arrived in time to baptize a dying man, who expired shortly afterward. Then, after crossing a river, he found several sick Christians, whom he confessed; he then bled them, and it came to pass that, by means of the spiritual and temporal remedies, God restored them to health. He also baptized, at the same place, a man and a woman who were very well disposed. At the same time, he had to endeavor to prepare for that [Page 243] sacrament a woman who had a great aversion to the French and to the Faith. He succeeded so well that she was worthy of receiving baptism before she died. He had barely finished when he was obliged Promptly to recross the river, to bleed a sick juggler; but, as he did not deem him worthy of baptism, the Father set out at once to go two leagues from there, and administer it to a woman and a child, who at the same time were restored to health through the medicines which he gave them.Thus a missionary must be all things to all men, allowing no opportunity to escape him for winning souls to Jesus Christ, This is what the Father does both in and out of Onnontague. Consequently he has this year increased his church by seventy-two Christians, forty of whom died after baptism, as well as many adults; among these were some captives from Andastogué whom he baptized amid the fires in which they died.


“The 27th. Two Elders from Onnontagué bring the news of the return of their warriors, with nine Andastogué captives that were surprised while hunting. Two of them were given to Onneiout, — a Young man of twenty, and a woman. This woman was baptized at Onnontagué by Father Millet.

“The 30th. They begin to burn her over a slow fire, and prolong her torture for the space of two days and two nights, — because he for whom she was given was burned at Andastogué for that length of time.

To me, it does not seem from these narratives that the Andastes were friends with the Iroquois nation or the Onondaga. As a result, I wonder how the association and ancestral connection (making the Onondaga the Susquehannock
modern descendants) was decided upon between the two in order for the transference of remains to occur. Again – I am not afraid to claim ignorance and this is just my opinion - so I hope that someone can send me this information to help me understand all of this a little better.

The Site

I have had great interest in the Englebert site ever since I started studying Carantoun – about which I published an article in the PA Archaeologist in 2005. Carantouan was the nation of Andastes that Etienne Brule visited in 1615 in order to bring 500 of their warriors to help Samuel Champlain and the Hurons in a battle against the Onondagas. You can read all about this at Spanishhill.com if you are not familiar with this story…Note the map shown here.

In recounting this story, Champlain made a map in 1632 of his travels and he illustrates Brule’s path to Carantouan and also shows where the villages and the ceremonial space (Spanish H
ill) was located. As you can see there were just as Champlain explained three villages. And the northern most has a flag even. Well folks…I believe this is exactly where the Englebert site was found 350 years later.

The Englebert site located on a 20-acere gravel knoll was excavated as a salvage operation that uncovered 140 burials while a highway was being constructed near Nichols, NY. In the end, the site was the largest Andaste cemetery that I know of ever being found. During the excavation, the Tri Cities Chapter of NY Archaeology and many volunteers led by Dolores Eliot feverishly dug and recorded burial after burial as the bulldozers worked right behind them. Dan Caister, president of the Tri-Cities Chapter actually did a presentation about this for us that I videotaped.I believe the Englebert family also were present and talked after the presentation on this tape too. Dan also did an article in our newsletter in 2007 about the site which began with,

“The most important fact about the Engelbert site near Nichols, NY, is that it was repeatedly used as a cemetery by the ancestors of the Iroquois for 600 years from 950 A.D. to 1550 A.D…

The second most important fact about this key site is that it’s gone...”

Today, Dan couldn’t have said it any better. But over the summers of 1967-68, when the excavation occurred, the remains and the grave goods from 140 burials of the Late Woodland residents of the Susquehanna Valley were all boxed up and eventually made their way to SUNY Binghamton. In his report, Dan stated, “Based on the artifacts interred in the graves, most of the burials dated to the Late Owasco, Protohistoric and Early Contact periods. These estimates are based on pottery styles, pottery technology, and copper artifacts in a few burials which suggest the presence of European trade goods. Other features—hearths or storage pits—contained artifacts from the Late Archaic period around 4000 years ago.” Lastly he raised the question that perked my interests when he said, “Another question which may never be answered is whether this was an occupation site—a village or hamlet—at some times and a cemetery at other times. The site was certainly occupied at least intermittently during the Late Archaic period. The amount of pottery and stone tools in non-burial contexts, the presence of deep storage pits, and a line of possible postmolds suggest that the hilltop may also have been occupied during at least part of the Late Woodland period.”

Since Brule WAS the early European contact for Carantouan which I believe the Englebert site WAS a part of - and the copper goods that were found at the site occur generally in sites dated from 1600-1625 – AND there was possible evidence of post molds and thus living spaces - Again, I hope that you can understand my interests relative to Brule’s trip to Carantouan which occurred in 1615.

Unfortunately – I am not an archaeologist or anthropologist and have been hoping to someday get the professionals here to research the evidence found in the region of Carantouan to include the Englebert site. It is my hope that this could answer the questions surrounding Carantouan, Spanish Hill and the three village sites on Champlain's map once and for all.

...And then I received the email that said that soon, most of this evidence from the Englebert site will be gone!

And when I went back to read Dan Caister's article - he actually even told us in 2007, " The Native American remains have been or will be repatriated to the Iroquois nations under the terms of the Native American Graves and Patrimony Repatriation Act. The burial goods interred with the prehistoric human remains will also be returned to their modern descendants. But soil samples, artifacts recovered outside of the burials, animal remains and botanical remains are still available for study and reveal `some fascinating information about the prehistory of this area. "

I know what you are thinking at this point…

I know that you are thinking that I am upset that the remains are being re-interred, right?

Well let’s think about this a little bit…

The site was excavated 41 years ago. So my question is what research was done on it for the nearly half a century that it was in those boxes? The only extensive reports that I know of are as follows:

Most Recent: SUNY Binghamton, April Beinsaw, PhD – her dissertation was on the Englebert Site and SRAC had her present her research. Watch it here.

I found three articles in the NYSAA Bulletin that were written over the years as well:


Bulletin Volume 61: July 1974 - Copper Artifacts From The Engelbert Site 1 - Helene R. Dunbar and Katharine C. Ruhl

Bulletin Volume 80 and 81: Fall 1981 – Spring 1981: Historic Ceramics from the Engelbert Site: An Evaluation of Artifacts from a Salvage 19 Operation - Charles Semowich

Lastly there is small booklet that showed photos of many of the burials that was created that is quite hard to find these days. SUNY Binghamton might have some left they would send out and SRAC does have one however that can be used in house and for research purposes & by request only.

And that folks is the grand sum total of all that I have been able to acquire on info about the Englebert Site and any research done on the materials found there over the last 40 years.

Some would say that is enough.

I would say that it is just the tip of the iceberg of what should have been done and feel that SRAC whose mission is to promote more archaeological research in the area should have been more of a catalyst concerning this issue.

But no matter what ANYONE says, it is all that there will ever be done using the skeletal remains and artifacts found in the burials there.

I hope that those mighty Susquehannocks who gave us 41 years to learn what we could from their remains can rest in peace soon - - even though they know (as we all do) that we did not.

Shame on US.

I also hope that all of the readers that have comments on this are responsible enough to post it to the bottom of this blog by clicking the comments link found there. In this way ALL of this info will remain linked to this topic for anyone wanting to know about this site and its fate for years to come. Feedback is as always welcome as well.

Please note that the opinions stated here are ALL MINE, and are not meant to represent those of SRAC or any other party.


  1. Just a couple of observations. I regret that the materials from Englebert will be lost to future research. But the dearth of published reports on the site highlight the difficulty of working with the archaeological evidence. The site was excavated under duress-- literally in front of the buldozers-- by volunteers with a wide range of experience. As a result, the excavation records are extremely difficult to work with. All the more remarkable that April Beisaw was able to make any sense of them! I can't fault the excavators, who should be commended for getting anything at all out of the ground. But this is a great example of why meticulous record-keeping is more important than digging. Without documentation, the prehistoric remains turn from "evidence" to "stuff". As April's work shows, the Englebert remains fall somewhere in the middle.
    Dan Caister

  2. There seems to be a whole lot of misunderstandings floating out there about the Engelbert site repatriations. I hope I can clarify the situation with some first-hand facts.

    First, less than 30% of the Engelbert collection will be repatriated. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) only applies to certain situations and objects. For instance, human remains, and the artifacts intentionally buried with these remains, are the majority of the items covered by the law. Since Engelbert had scores of non-burial features containing artifacts, these are not covered by the law and remain in Binghamton’s collections for future research.

    Second, there was no agreement made with the Onondaga Nation some years ago. There have been ongoing consultations with the Six Nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy as well as the Delaware and other potentially affiliated groups as required by NAGPRA. There was no conclusive evidence or agreement about the cultural affiliation of the two components (Owasco and Susquehannock) at Engelbert. The Onondaga Nation claimed affiliation, took their case to the federal review committee that mediates these claims, that committee heard arguments from the Onondaga and the New York State Museum, and ruled that the remains should be repatriated to the Onondaga. These decisions were just finalized this past May.

    Regarding the perception that there has been a lack of research on the collection prior to repatriation - that is just not true. Articles in the NYSAA Bulletin do not tell the whole story of research. There have been Master’s theses, Doctoral dissertations, and articles in peer-reviewed journals throughout the years after Engelbert’s salvage excavations. In addition, NAGPRA required detailed inventories of the items covered by the law. There are photographs, measurements, and analytical results all available for future research. And, as already mentioned, there is still around 70% of the collection curated at Binghamton University.

    You do not need to hold an artifact in your hand in order to perform research. If you know how to unlock the information in that artifact, the data can be used for decades into the future. We should all recognize the significant contribution made by the many volunteers who excavated the site, by the late Chloe Zemek (Triple Cities Chapter) who logged thousands of hours cataloging the artifacts from the site, and by the professional archaeologists who collected and saved the data from those artifacts being repatriated tomorrow. Research can, and will, continue many years into the future.

    Nina M. Versaggi, PhD
    Public Archaeology Facility
    Binghamton University
    Binghamton, NY 13902-6000
    (607) 777-4786 Fax: (607) 777-2288

  3. I would like to respond to a statement made by Dr. Versaggi. NAGPRA requires that the Museum make the determination of affiliation; thus, in order to repatriate pursuant to NAGPRA, the Museum is obligated to make that determination. The Museums cannot disown that determination by saying a federal review committee did it. Accordingly, New York State Museum and Binghamton University determined that based on the totality of evidence, which included the findings made by the NAGPRA Review Committee, the Engelbert ancestors and their fumerary objects are affiliated with the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Though there may be no conclusive archeaological evidence, both institutions did determine that based on oral tradition, geography, linguistics, material culture, and other forms of evidence, that affiliation was more likely than not. In other words, instead of relying on archaeological evidence, which is so very limited, NAGPRA allows a Museum to review all the interdisciplinary information available to it, including oral tradition. That is quite progressive for federal law, and should really give Museums the opportunity to expand their science.

    The NAGPRA Review Committee made its findings back in October 2008, and the repatriation is just now physically being completed.

  4. Does anyone know if what evidence was used is public information and how we can get a copy of the list of evidence and the final ruling?

  5. I have read your post on SRAC and wanted to provide a few comments that you might find helpful.

    Regarding the ancestry/descendancy question - I am not familiar enough with the site in question to make any comments about who occupied it, but I am aware of the Pan-Iroquoian practice of adoption - in which captured enemies could be adopted into families of the captors, in part to replace family members that they lost. It would not happen with all captives, but it does seem to have been a significant aspect of the culture, and one that helped to the Iroquois to survive in the face of disease and warfare. I can not recall the source at this moment (perhaps Bartram?) but there is an 18th Century account of a traveler to Seneca territory where he reports hearing at least 12 different languages being spoken, but everyone identified themselves as Seneca (having been formally adopted and thus changing accepting that identification). As a result, there may well be many direct descendants of the occupants of the Englebert Site among today's Onondaga - even if the site was Susquehannock (or some other designation) at the time it was occupied.

    The Regulations provide the following guidance on ownership claims - Sections (a)(2) (A) & (B) both apply to the Onondaga in this case.

    25 USC 3002.
    ownership or control of Native American cultural items which are excavated or discovered on Federal or tribal lands after the date of enactment of this Act shall be (with priority given in the order listed)-
    (1) in the case of Native American human remains and associated funerary objects, in the lineal descendants of the Native American; or
    (2) in any case in which such lineal descendants cannot be ascertained, and in the case of unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony—
    (A) in the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization on whose tribal land such objects or remains were discovered;
    (B) in the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization which has the closest cultural affiliation with such remains or objects and which, upon notice, states a claim for such remains or objects; or
    (C) if the cultural affiliation of the objects cannot be reasonably ascertained and if the objects were discovered on Federal land that is recognized by a final judgment of the Indian Claims Commission or the United States Court of Claims as the aboriginal land of some Indian tribe—
    (1) in the Indian tribe that is recognized as aboriginally occupying the area in which the objects were discovered, if upon notice, such tribe states a claim for such remains or objects, or
    (2) if it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that a different tribe has a stronger cultural relationship with the remains or objects than the tribe or organization specified in paragraph (1), in the Indian tribe that has the strongest demonstrated relationship, if upon notice, such tribe states a claim for such remains or objects

    With regard to research on the collection - one of the aspects of NAGPRA is that an Inventory of collections was to have been made as part of the process before repatriation, resulting in data being available for continued research even if the actual materials are not.

    (a) IN GENERAL.--Each Federal agency and each museum which has possession or control over holdings or collections of Native American human remains and associated funerary objects shall compile an inventory of such items and, to the extent possible based on information possessed by such museum or Federal agency, identify the geographical and cultural affiliation of such item.

    I hope this is helpful for you. You can find much more about NAGPRA at the National NAGPRA website - http://www.nps.gov/history/Nagpra/

  6. In response to you call for any documentation the Federal Register Notice about the case can be found at http://www.nps.gov/history/nagpra/REVIEW/RCNOTICES/rcf013.pdf . I am not sure about where to find any more detailed documents but this does present the detailed summary of process and findings

    As you can see in this document Shanon OLaw's response that the NYSM determined the remains to be Onondaga is not accurate and in fact is contradicted by the details presented in the Federal Register (see the extracted section below - highlights added to the relevant lines). Clearly the Museum did not agree that the materials were Onondaga, and only turned the material over as they were directed to by the NAGPRA review board. Additionally - the NAPGRA board did not find that the materials were directly ancestral to the Onondaga - but only

    "that the preponderance of the evidence shows a relationship of shared group identity between the Onondaga Nation (and the greater Haudenosaunee Confederacy, of which the Nation is a member-nation) and the remains of the 180 Native American individuals in the Engelbert Site inventory."

    In other words - the remains are Iroquoian and the Onondaga (and all other Haudenosaunee) are Iroquoian and therefore there is a shared group identity and the Onondaga (or any Iroquoian group) could make a successful claim. With the Onondaga being the geographically closest, it made sense for them to take the remains.

    I suspect that the delay in the transfer of the material was the time it took to work out the logistics of the transfer.

    The following is excerpted from Federal Register Vol. 74 #41 - March 4, 2009. - pp. 9427-9428
    DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR/National Park Service/Native American Graves Protection/and Repatriation Review Committee/Findings and Recommendations/Regarding Cultural Items in the Possession of the New York State Museum .

    "In 2007, the Onondaga Nation (the Nation) presented to the Museum information relevant to showing cultural affiliation between the Nation and the human remains in question, and requested that the Museum repatriate the human remains listed in the inventory to the Nation.. In response, the Museum refused to repatriate the human remains in the inventory to the Nation, asserting that the Nation had not shown cultural affiliation by a preponderance of the evidence.

    Disputing the decision of the Museum, the Nation asked the Review Committee to facilitate the dispute between the Nation and the Museum. The Review Committee Chair agreed to the Nation’s request.

    At its October 11-12, 2008 meeting, the Review Committee considered the dispute between the Nation and the Museum. The sole issue of material fact between the parties was whether the relevant information provided by the Onondaga Nation showed, by a preponderance of the evidence, cultural affiliation between the human remains listed in the inventory and the Nation on the basis of geographical, kinship, biological, archeological, anthropological, linguistic, folkloric, oral traditional, historical, or other relevant information or expert opinion.

    FINDINGS OF FACT: By a vote of five to one - six members, comprising a quorum, were present -- the Review Committee found that the preponderance of the evidence shows a relationship of shared group identity between the Onondaga Nation (and the greater Haudenosaunee Confederacy, of which the Nation is a member-nation) and the remains of the 180 Native American individuals in the Engelbert Site inventory.

    RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE DISPUTING PARTIES: By a vote of five to one - six members, comprising a quorum, were present -- the Review Committee recommended that, consistent with the NAGPRA criteria, the New York State Museum expeditiously repatriate the remains of the 180 Native American individuals in the Engelbert Site inventory to the Onondaga Nation."

  7. I have received a question on who is allowed to post comments on this blog.

    Here are my rules.

    Seek not to offend - but to enlighten.

    Seek to unite us - not to separate us.

    Here we are not Whites against Reds or vice versa. We are HUMAN BEINGS - who all deserve respect.

    I will not allow this forum to be used for a platform for any group, culture, religion or political group.

    In other words HATE has no place here.

    Come here as one of us. Human Beings searching for the truth about our region's many peoples and past.

    Do this and you can post to your hearts content.

  8. I have been following this discussion with interest, but I do not really have a dog in the race. I do not believe, however, that Brule's narrative of Carantouan can be considered to be entirely accurate as history. It was mostly written after he returned from his travels under circumstances that have never been clearly understood.

    As far as the affiliation question goes, there probably would be no good choice for living relatives of Susquehannock remains among federally recognized tribes. Nina Versaggi makes a good case for there having already been extensive study and documentation of these collections. I do not know whether more could be done or not.

    Did Marshall Becker make a comment somewhere about this issue? I respect him a great deal in terms of knowledge of physical traits as well as artifacts and languages from the protohistoric and historic periods.

  9. The voice that is missing from these postings is the Native voice. None of you have asked Onondaga or the Haudenosaunee what they think about Engelbert. If you want to "unite", then you have to let all voices in and not silence those who don't agree with you. "Unity" does not mean we all agree with each other.

    Native Americans are generally offended by discussions of their grandparents like science objects. Doesn't it make you wonder, why would Native Americans have such strong feelings...?

  10. First - to assume that I have not kept several postings from going on to the blog because of offensive comments would be incorrect - That goes for whatever race - as I have no way of knowing unless you tell me!

    ( ;

    Second - by having a comments area on this blog I have "invited" ALL to comment,and have only kept those comments from being posted that are offensive. To single a race out to have to be invited to comment here did not even cross my mind. To me we are all just people.

    Third - I too have strong feelings. I don't find them offensive - but I do find racism and hate offensive. Thank you to the person above for rewriting their thoughts in a format that now is something I can post.

    And EVERYONE - please DO share your thoughts from ANY perspective while being respectful.

  11. To Anonymous-
    please email me. This comments area is not meant for a two way communication.