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Possible Revolutionary War remains studied at Quinnipiac University in North Haven

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NORTH HAVEN — Three skeletons found buried beneath a Ridgefield home and believed to be remains of soldiers killed during the Revolutionary War are being analyzed by researchers at Quinnipiac University.

“It's still kind of hard for me to wrap my head around this,” said Jerry Conlogue, co-director of the university’s Bioanthropology Research Institute. “This was someone who was walking around in Connecticut in the 1700s. This is their actual bones. To me, that's pretty mind boggling.” 

The skeletons were found in late November as the owners of the home, which was built in 1790, were preparing to install a concrete floor in the dirt-floor basement. After the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the bodies were historical skeletons, State Archeologist Nick Bellantoni began exhuming the remains.

Bellantoni had already been using ground penetrating radar to search the area for evidence of a mass grave that British soldiers are believed to have dug after the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777. Because the remains were found clustered within 10 feet of each other, it’s believed that this could be the mass grave.

“If the house hadn't been there and these folks didn't decide to concrete the basement, it never would’ve been found,” Conlogue said.

The researchers at Quinnipiac University’s Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on Bassett Road began examining the remains on Friday.

“From what we're seeing on this first skeleton, it seems like a robust individual. The radius, this bone that connects from your elbow to your thumb, has definite strong muscle markings," Conlogue said.

The first skeleton examined is believed to be a male, at least 20 years old, said Tania Grgurich, a clinical associate professor of diagnostic imaging.

The Quinnipiac team will use a suite of X-ray scanners to image the skeletons. After that, the skeletons will be handed off to Yale University for a more detailed analysis, possibly including DNA testing, Conlogue said.

Rare insight into state’s history

Since many remains from this era have been lost to the region’s acidic soil, the skeletons can provide valuable insight into the health and lifestyle of those who lived in Connecticut during the Colonial Era.

“We don’t have a lot of information from skeletons from the Revolutionary War era, so if in fact these are soldiers from the Battle of Ridgefield, this will be a chance to actually learn from the skeletons themselves about what life was like and what happened,” said Jaime Ullinger, associate professor of anthropology and co-director of the Bioanthropology Research Institute.

Robert Lombardo, a Quinnipiac University adjunct professor, helps a student perform an X-ray scan of bones found beneath a Ridgefield, Connecticut home. The remains are part of a set of three skeletons suspected to be Revolutionary War soldiers. | Devin Leith-Yessian/Record-Journal

A variety of X-ray imaging equipment scans each bone one at a time. A mammography unit was used to examine the teeth and jaw, allowing a higher resolution than is typically provided by standard X-ray scanners.

“We can see things that are possibly happening internally that you can't necessarily see from the external surface,” Ullinger said. “So for example, when we were looking at the lower jaw bone, we could see that there wasn’t any infection happening internally. So it looks like the person did have some cavities on their teeth, but that hadn't turned into some infection on the jaw.”

The circular ring of the CT scanner, also known as a CAT scan, provides a three-dimensional look into the bones, allowing radiographers to look at structures from various angles and to peer past overlapping bones. After laying the skull on the scanning bed, Grgurich was able to view the visualizations on two computers and pan around the interior of the cranial cavity.

Being able to participate in such novel research is a unique experience for students, said adjunct professor Edward Rosenblatt.

“Projects like this help one expand their skills, learn to improvise, either with positioning of patients or remains, as well as setting techniques — the technical settings on the X-ray machines — in order to get good images,” he said.

“If you give them a challenge like this, now they're going to have to think outside the box and go back to some of those physics classes to adjust the technical factors to get a good image.”

Twitter: @leith_yessian


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