State Archeologist Dr. Nick Bellantoni planning for retirement
By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Windsor - posted Thu., Feb. 27, 2014
State Archeologist Dr. Nick Bellantoni is making a farewell tour of sorts throughout the state of Connecticut as he prepares to retire from the position he has held since 1987. Bellantoni is an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut and has been a part of several notable historic digs throughout the state.
Bellantoni came to the Windsor Historical Society on Feb. 19 to give a lecture on some of the many amazing archeological finds he has been a part of.
A huge crowd came to hear Bellantoni’s presentation, which was accompanied by a slideshow.
Bellantoni outlined some of his favorite digs, starting with one that was literally stumbled across in 1990. Two boys went to play at a local construction site, only to find two skulls popping out of the dirt. These two skulls led to the discovery of more than two dozen skeletons and a Colonial-era burial ground.
“At the time, police were speculating that these were a couple of victims of a serial killer,” said Bellantoni. But, after some research, Bellantoni was able to date the bones back farther.
This is a site which gained some particular notoriety, because one of the bodies found was buried in a stone-lined crypt and in reverse, making Bellantoni believe that those who buried him thought he would come back to life. “It was a folk belief here in New England where, without an understanding of how disease was transmitted, the dead might remain undead and re-infect family members,” he said.
Another famous case in which Bellantoni was involved was when he was asked to go to Russia and assist in confirming a skull in their possession was that of Adolf Hitler. Bellantoni showed pictures of the bones and the couch where Hitler supposedly ended his life. “All accounts were that he put a gun to his temple,” said Bellantoni. But he was able to show that the angle of the bullet hole on this skull came from the direction of the mouth, and that the skull belonged to a much younger person, perhaps even a woman.
One of the archeological events that Bellantoni was most emotionally connected to was when he was asked to assist a family who wanted to trace their ancestor, “Venture” Smith, back to his African roots. Smith was one of the millions who was kidnapped and brought to America as a slave. Smith amazingly saved up enough money to buy his own freedom in 1760 and became a successful businessman who lived in Haddam Neck, Conn., and was then buried upon his death in East Haddam. “It was a fabulous experience working with the family,” said Bellantoni.
He and his volunteers excavated Smith’s gravesite to hopefully obtain a DNA sample, but sadly there was no bone matter left to extricate it from. “He was an extraordinary individual,” he said. “I am sorry his remains weren’t there because I really would like to have met him.”
Bellantoni doesn’t plan to leave Connecticut upon his retirement and will certainly not disappear off the state archeology scene. “UConn has already scheduled me to come back to teach courses,” he said. “I have had a couple of consulting offers.”
Bellantoni said he would like to “write one or more books on my experiences and projects.”