WEST DEPTFORD, NJ – A mass grave has been discovered at a New Jersey park after archeologists investigating a Revolutionary War battlefield found the remains of about a dozen Hessian soldiers.
The discovery was made at the Battle of Red Bank National Park along the banks of the Delaware River in June.
The dig, conducted by Rowan University was successful before the find of the human remains.
“The big find was a nearly pristine—and extremely rare—1766 King George III gold guinea,” the University said in a statement. “And then someone uncovered a human femur.”
“One of our volunteers who was digging said, ‘I think I have a bone.’ And…everything…stopped,” says Rowan University historian Jennifer Janofsky, director of Red Bank Battlefield Park in National Park. “I’ll never forget that moment. It was stunning. It was overwhelming. It was sad.”
Rowan University issued the following statement on the find:
Altogether, in fact, the skeletal remains of approximately 13 individuals, believed by researchers to be Hessian soldiers, were uncovered this summer during an archaeological dig at the battlefield—the site of what Janofsky says was the greatest upset victory of the American Revolution.
Buried for 245 years just four and a half feet deep, the remains—femurs, skulls, teeth—were found in a mass grave, a rarity for Revolutionary War battle sites, according to Janofsky, the Megan Giordano Fellow in Public History in Rowan’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences.
“As we removed more remains, it became clear to us that this was not one individual. We were looking at a mass grave and, in all likelihood, a Hessian mass grave.
“Finding battlefield remains is incredibly unusual,” continues Janofsky, who secured a $19,000 New Jersey Historical Commission grant to conduct four public digs this summer on a quarter-acre parcel of land adjacent to the existing park that was purchased by Gloucester County last summer because of its historical significance. County officials committed $30,000 in additional funding for the archaeology project.
When the femur was discovered, Janofsky made a flurry of phone calls—to the county, to the medical examiner, to local and state police. New Jersey State Police Forensic Anthropologist Anna Delaney visited the site and confirmed the femur was from a human. Additional digging by archeologists from South River Heritage Consulting, led by president/principal archaeologist Wade Catts, meticulously, reverently uncovered additional remains.
Based on the artifacts found with the remains, researchers believe the remains are Hessian soldiers. But additional study is needed to confirm that, according to Janofsky and Catts.
“We’re assuming they’re Hessian soldiers based on everything we’ve found, the context of what we’ve found, and the artifacts and objects that are in place with them. This is very much a death scene investigation,” says Catts. “It’s a really significant archaeological site.”
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