Jun 10, 2024 - News

NC developers seek to build on land with up to 3,000-year-old Native American remains

The approximate location of the development in Cedar Point, where the burial site is located.

The approximate location of the subdivision where the development site — and Native American burial ground — is located.

North Carolina lawmakers are moving to loosen development requirements that would allow real estate developers to build homes on a "highly significant archaeological site" the state says includes a Native American burial ground up to 3,000 years old.

Why it matters: A recent archeological survey discovered the site has "no less than 11 potential human burial clusters," each containing multiple individuals as part of a Native American settlement spanning over multiple centuries between 1000 BCE – 1600 CE, the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources said in a letter provided to Axios.

  • The site, located in Carteret County's Cedar Point, a town on the Bogue Sound near Emerald Isle, could also be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the letter said.

The big picture: The proposed legislation appears to cut some state agencies out of the development process and prevent regulators from blocking construction on the site  — and potential sites in the future — due to archaeological concerns, DNCR spokesperson Schorr Johnson tells Axios.

What they're saying: "This is a major discovery. It's one of the most significant sites, if not the most significant, I've encountered in my 30-plus years as an archaeologist," DNCR state archaeologist Chris Southerly said in a statement to Axios.

  • "A full village of American Indians lived in this area along the Bogue Sound for generations prior to European contact. It's likely one of the most important archaeological sites identified in North Carolina since the 1990s, one that can help us learn new things about the people who lived along our coastline from 1000 BCE to the 1600s."

The other side: An engineer hired by the developer on the project, Cedar Points Developers LLC, said digging on the site merely found "kind of a 'Native American landfill,' with lots of shells and some broken pottery, but 'nothing significant,'" The Carteret County News-Times reported last July.

State lawmakers said the change to state law is necessary to balance the need for housing with the regulatory environment.

  • "This developer has spent over a half million dollars on a $20 million piece of property with an archaeology expert on site, digging trenches all along the waterfront with no findings," state Sen. Michael Lazzara said in a committee hearing last week. "A year, and they still do not have a permit."

Friction point: Lazzara noted in committee that the archaeology expert hired by developers only had "potential findings" concerning a burial ground.

  • But words like "potential," "possible," or "probable" are often used until an actual excavation happens, state archaeologists note, "even though all observable evidence clearly indicates the characteristics of a burial of human remains."

The intrigue: Multiple human remains were also recovered during construction last summer in another part of the subdivision, the DNCR letter said.

  • "All evidence indicates multiple additional human burial sites on the property, which deserve the utmost respect," Southerly said. "These are the ancestors of living people at their final resting place."
  • Axios was unable to reach representatives of Cedar Point Developers LLC for comment.

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