An anthropology professor, her students, and a chemistry professor have been recognized for their expertise and commitment to preserving one local village’s history with the New York State Historic Preservation Award for Excellence in Archaeological Stewardship.
Mindy Pitre, associate professor of anthropology and the University’s J. Ansil Ramsay Professor of Public Health, was called in as a bioarchaeological consultant in 2019 when the Village of Heuvelton began a project to replace its existing water tower and construction crews stumbled upon skeletal remains. The site had once been the village’s first cemetery but was thought to have been emptied and its burials moved to nearby Hillcrest Cemetery in the late 1800s. Pitre was charged with excavating and analyzing any recovered remains and collaborated at the site with Tim Abel, Ph.D., a local archaeologist, and chose to involve her students in the historic experience because they all had background in human osteology thanks to the courses Pitre regularly offers.
“Students have been afforded a rare opportunity to experience anthropology in the field while at the same time doing the community a service,” Pitre said at the time. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone: Our students get an amazing experiential learning opportunity, and the community of Heuvelton has some of its early residents respectfully laid to rest.”
At the site, Pitre and her students removed the skeletal remains of several individuals that were inadvertently discovered. In addition to human remains, the team recovered coffin hardware such as nails, coffin screws, and hinges. Pitre said all of their work at the site followed standard bioarchaeological and New York State Historic Preservation protocols and was carried out with the utmost respect for the discovered individuals.
The remains are being examined in Pitre’s St. Lawrence lab, where she has been carrying out skeletal analysis to determine information such as sex, age, ancestry, height, and cause and manner of death. Once her analysis is complete, the human remains will be reburied in Hillcrest Cemetery.
In addition to the Village of Heuvelton, Pitre, her students, and Abel, Associate Professor of Chemistry Adam Hill also received the award for photo-documenting the water tower in advance of its removal from the site, thereby helping to preserve this iconic moment in Heuvelton’s history. Other entities recognized for their efforts on the Village of Heuvelton project included the USDA Rural Development, and Canton-based Capital Consultants Architecture & Engr (C2AE).
“This experience that Mindy and her students were able to take part in illustrates one of the many ways she ensures academic learning takes place beyond the campus and throughout the region, helping students learn disciplinary methods and understand the human experience by getting their hands dirty,” said Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Karl Schonberg. “This was a tremendous opportunity for everyone involved, and I am grateful to our faculty members like Mindy and Adam who often find ways to have students work alongside them as they answer the North Country’s call.”
Created in 1980, the State Historic Preservation Awards are awarded by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation each year to honor excellence in the protection and revitalization of historic and cultural resources. New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the 11 projects that received the award on February 4.
"The 2020 New York State Historic Preservation Awards help bolster efforts to keep New York's storied history protected and accessible to all," Governor Cuomo said. "These historic projects demonstrate the diversity of lived New York experiences since our state's founding. New York is thankful to the dedicated stewards of each site, who provide invaluable support by devoting countless hours to the protection of historic sites for all to learn from and enjoy."