Faces from the Past:
Forgotten People of North America
Once, no humans lived on the continent of North America; then they began to journey here.
The first migrants arrived perhaps fifteen or twenty thousand years ago. Scientists believe that people from Asia had settled on a one-thousand-mile-wide land bridge (now called Beringia) that connected present-day Siberia to Alaska. Eventually, some of their descendants moved onward to North America and spread out across the land.
Much later, others came from Europe, from Africa, from Asia and other places. Some came willingly; some were enslaved and brought against their will.
Today, when a skeleton from centuries ago is discovered, scientists want to study it to discover information about the person’s life and death, about her or his time and place in history. Sometimes artists are asked to reconstruct faces from the past, using replicas of their skulls. Then these nameless, unknown people can be brought back to life, remembered, and honored.
Now, when their skeletons are discovered, their stories can be told.
But all settled on this continent.
And when the earliest settlers of North America died, so long ago, they were buried in caves or isolated graves. Later, others built burial mounds or cemeteries for their dead. Over time, many of the mounds were robbed and destroyed. Many early cemeteries disappeared from sight when makeshift grave markers blew away in the wind or decayed. Sometimes the early dead were not even buried; they simply fell where they were wounded and came to rest where they lay. No matter how they died or were buried, as time passed these people were forgotten.
Chapter 1. The Man From Spirit Cave
The man was very ill on the last day of his life. His people fed him, near the edge of the marsh where they lived. When he died, they carried him up a slope to a shallow cave. There they dug his grave, lined it with sagebrush, and placed his wrapped body inside before covering it with dirt. No one suspected that his final rest would be disturbed many thousands of years later.
[Revealed in Chapter 1: the history and face of Spirit Cave Man]
Chapter 2. Making Faces from the Past
When he began to lose his eyesight, he agreed to an operation. When that failed, he allowed another. The result was complete blindness, and he died soon afterward. He was buried in the cemetery of a local church, his grave unmarked. He became more famous after death, and when his body was discovered many years later during excavations in the churchyard, his skull was used to bring him back to life.
[Revealed in Chapter 2: the history and face of J. S. Bach and other early facial reconstructions]
Chapter 3. Amoroleck's Ancestors (circa 1000-1400)
No one knows how or when the man and woman died, though it was between one thousand and fourteen hundred years ago. They may have known each other or they may have died centuries apart. When they died, their bodies were placed in a burial mound. Over the years the mound grew as bodies were added. It remained a monument to all who had lived before…until the diggers arrived, and then their bones were taken.
[Revealed in Chapter 3: the history and faces of two Monacan Indians]
Chapter 4. A Stranded Sailor from France (1686)
The sailor was a long way from home—across the ocean in a new land—when he died a horrible, thirsty death. His body was curled into a ball surrounded by coils of rope that had been tied to the ship’s anchor. Not long afterward, the ship sank in a shallow bay and was covered with a thick layer of mud. When archaeologists discovered the shipwreck more than three hundred years later, they found it was a treasure trove of information about life in the last part of the 1600s. It was also the sailor’s coffin….
[Revealed in Chapter 4: the history and face of a sailor from La Salle's last expedition]
Chapter 5. Pearl from Colonial New York (1742)
She had spent her life working hard. At death she had infections and abscesses, a painful left leg, and gout in both feet. She was buried in the Lutheran burying ground on Pearl Street, but if any record of her burial existed, it was lost over time. And when the burying ground was later relocated, the woman’s coffin was forgotten beneath the ever-expanding city of Albany.
[Revealed in Chapter 5: the history and face of a woman from the British colony of New York]
Chapter 6. The Forgotten Burying Ground at Schuyler Flatts (circa 1750-1790)
Some grew up to work until they died. Others, though, were stricken with disease and died as infants or young children. Old or young, they had only first names, and after they were dead, no one kept a record of them or their location in the burying ground. Soon, all signs of their graves disappeared. When they were accidentally discovered hundreds of years later, a sad, hidden side of Schuyler Flatts became known.
[Revealed in Chapter 6: the history and faces of the enslaved workers of a colonial farmstead]
Chapter 7. A Mexican Soldier from San Jacinto (1836)
The soldier was killed in a brutal battle, his body left with hundreds of others to rot in a field. After a year, his skull was picked up and given to a collector, who catalogued it and placed it on a shelf. Eventually, it came to rest in a Pennsylvania museum. Many years later a researcher found the forgotten skull and made sure that the soldier’s story was told.
[Revealed in Chapter 7: the history and face of an unknown Mexican soldier who died at San Jacinto]
Chapter 8. The People of the Almshouse Cemetery (1826-1926)
They were the poorest people in town when they were buried in the almshouse cemetery. The oldest of them died in the almshouse hospital or dormitory, the youngest in the nursery at birth. Still others died in the nearby penitentiary or in the river. And when the almshouse eventually closed, its cemetery was forgotten until new buildings needed to be built. Then the graves had to be uncovered, and the secrets of the cemetery were revealed.
[Revealed in Chapter 8: the history and faces of the impoverished people from the Albany almshouse cemetery]
Chapter 9. Thomas Smith, Buffalo Soldier (1865)
He was young, finally free from slavery, and living in a desolate place far from home. Then he contracted cholera and died. He was buried in an army cemetery, but when it was relocated, he and many others were left behind and forgotten. Then one day the grave robbers found him and decided to steal his body.
[Revealed in Chapter 9: the history and face of Thomas Smith and other buffalo soldiers]
Chapter 10. Six Chinese Miners from Wyoming (circa 1881)
They came to North America to make their fortunes and died digging coal from the mines of Wyoming. But the lonely cemetery was lost over time. Some one hundred years later, construction workers uncovered them accidentally, reminding everyone of what their hard work had accomplished.
[Revealed in Chapter 10: the history but not the faces of six Chinese miners from Wyoming]
Quotation Sources, Selected Bibliography, Acknowledgments,
For Further Research and Information, Index
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