Virginia Indian Shell necklace drawing

Drawing of a shell necklace from a Virginia Indian burial at Flowerdew Hundred, ca. AD 900-1615

Virginia Indian Burials

In addition to the European graves, archaeologists uncovered a number of Virginia Indian burials, including an ossuary, at Flowerdew Hundred. Primarily associated with Native groups of the Middle Atlantic coast, ossuaries are large, circular pits where multiple individuals were collectively interred. Archaeologists did not remove human burials from the ossuary but recorded its location and created a detailed map of the individuals interred within it.  

When the Native burials were uncovered at Flowerdew Hundred in the 1970s and 1980s, regulations for the handling of American Indian human remains did not exist. Throughout the twentieth century archaeologists often excavated Indian human remains and removed them to area museums, where they may have been placed in storage or exhibited. Addressing this need to ensure that native remains are handled respectfully, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) requires archaeologists to obtain permission from the federal government and descendant communities before excavating Native remains or analyzing remains housed in museums. Additionally, institutions must return remains at a tribe’s request for reburial. The changes ushered in by NAGPRA have enabled Virginia Indian groups to take a more active role in the presentation of their ancestors’ histories. Today, many Virginia archaeologists work closely with local Virginia Indian communities to integrate their perspective into interpretations of the past.

Virginia Indian groups, out of respect for their deceased ancestors, have requested that no photos of human remains or funerary objects be included in public displays. A drawing of a shell necklace recovered from a native burial at Flowerdew Hundred, rather than the actual object or detailed maps of the ossuary, accompanies this discussion.