Various Types of Iroquoian Burials

Many burials of special interest, either by reason of their rather unusual form or the material which they revealed, have been discovered in different parts of the present State of New York. These may be attributed to the people of the Five Nations, and seem to prove that all followed various methods of disposing of their dead. The quotations are made from Beauchamp, by whom the information was gathered from several sources. In Genesee County, the home of the Seneca, a cemetery encountered in a gravel bank some 6 miles southeast of Bergen ” has skeletons in a sitting posture, with and without early relics.” These were undoubtedly flexed, the bodies closely wrapped and then placed in pits-the early form of inhumation. Eastward from the preceding, in Seneca County, once occupied by the Cayuga, the ancient village of Kendaia stood about 4 miles southwest of the present settlement of Romulus. It was destroyed in 1779. One of the graves then standing was thus described: “The body was laid on the surface of the earth in a shroud or garment ; then a large casement made very neat with boards something larger than the body and about four foot high put over the body as it lay on the earth; and the outside and top were painted very curious with a great many colors. In each end of the casement was a small hole where the friends of the deceased or anybody might see the corpse when they pleased. Then over all was built a large shed of bark so as to prevent the rain from coming on the vault.” The painting on this tomb may have resembled the decoration on the Oneida graves described by Van Curler nearly a century and a half earlier. In Onondaga County, on lot 13 of the town of Lafayette, is the site of a village, with an orchard. This was a settlement of the tribe whose name is now perpetuated by the county, and was abandoned in 1779. The objects found on the site are of both native and European origin; “a burial-place has the graves in rows, and also scattered promiscuously. The bodies were inclosed in boxes of wood or bark.” Evidently this cemetery and the adjoining village existed during the transition period, when some material was being derived from the whites, but before it had entirely replaced the products of the Iroquois. When enlarging the canal in Oriskany, in Oneida County, during the year 1849, ” ten or more skeletons were found in logs hollowed out by burning. They had medals and ornaments. One medal of George I was dated in 1731. The others were dated from 1731 to 1735. In two instances the heads of three or four skeletons were placed together and the bodies radiated from these. There are ear and nose ornaments of red slate and some pipes.” These were probably Oneida burials, as this was within the limits of their tribal lands. In the southern part of the region occupied by the Oneida, later the home of the Tuscarora, near Richfield Springs, in Otsego County, ” skeletons were found with flat stones over the face.” And in the adjoining county of Chenango were many embankments on the east side of the Chenango, south of Oxford” There were also traces of graves nearby, lined above and below with cobble stones.

The upper stratum of these had fallen in.” And at another place in the same county “were human bones in great abundance, the skeletons buried nearly upright.”

Bushnell, David I. Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Volume 71. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1920.

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