The Indian Neck Ossuary


In September, 1979, National Park Service archaeologists conducting an archaeolgoical survey of Cape Cod National Seashore were called to a site on Indian Neck, a peninsula in Wellfleet Harbor on outer Cape Cod. A backhoe operator digging a hole for a cottage's septic tank had unearthed human bones. Based on the condition of the exposed bones, the archaeologists determined that the burial was prehistoric. The cottage owners allowed the NPS archaeological team to excavate the remaining undistrubed portion of the burial and gave them a week to complete the excavation. After two days of careful fieldwork an unexpected but intriguing burial feature had been exposed. The backhoe had cut through a collection of bones containing the remains of at least 56 people, men, women and children, interred together about 1,000 years ago in a communal burial. It is the best-documented example

of an ossuary (the technical term for such a deposit of bones) in New England, and one of the best-documented outside northwestern New York State, adjacent parts of Ontario and the Chesapeake Bay region where this burial type is known from late prehistoirc and early historic times. It also is the strongest evidence to date bearing on what is still an open question about the prehistory of coastal

New England: how settled were the native inhabitants in the centuries before Europeans arrived? We

believe the ossuary, combined with other archaeological data and the testimony of the first Europeans to explore the region, tips the balance of evidence away from scenarios in which the coast saw no more than occasional visits or seasonal camps and toward a picture of permanent coastal habitation.

Cite this Record

The Indian Neck Ossuary. Francis McManamon, James Bradley. Scientific American. 258 (5): 98-104. 1988 ( tDAR id: 6422) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8G73CNJ

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Radiocarbon Date: 1570 to 1410 (I-13,476, date on bone collagen, same sample as I-13,476)

Radiocarbon Date: 1015 to 555 (GX-777-M, date on human bone charcoal from cremation feature beneath unburned bone layer)

Radiocarbon Date: 1390 to 1130 (I-13,476, date on human bone fragment from unburned layer, date on bone apatite)

Radiocarbon Date: 1035 to 795 (GX-777-G, date on bone collagen, human tibia right distal end from unburned bone layer of ossuary)

Radiocarbon Date: 1060 to 810 (GX-777-A, date on bone apatite, same bone sample as used for date GX-777-C)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -70.038; min lat: 41.894 ; max long: -70.012; max lat: 41.935 ;


General Note: The human remains were repatriated under Massachusetts State procedures. The other remains from the excavation and records of the excavation are curated at the Cape Cod National Seashore curation facility, Salt Pond Visitor Center, Eastham, MA

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