LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. – Skeletal remains of more than a dozen British soldiers who died during the French and Indian War are expected to be returned this year to upstate New York for reburial near their original resting place on a Colonial American battleground.
The skeletons originally had been buried outside Fort William Henry between its construction in 1755 and its destruction by the French two years later, an event depicted in James Fenimore Cooper's novel "The Last of the Mohicans."
Two years ago, fort officials said for the first time that the skeletons had been taken in the 1990s by an Arizona State University anthropologist.
Fort officials said Thursday that the anthropologist has completed her research. The 15 skeletons likely will be returned to the fort "before the end of the summer," fort spokeswoman Melodie Viele said. Construction of a public park adjacent to an area containing the fort's unmarked military cemetery could delay the reburial, she said.
"It would be totally irresponsible to bring these skeletons home without either a proper facility or to be able to return them to their original burial place," Viele said.
Two years ago, fort officials revealed that most of the skeletons they said were reburied during a 1993 ceremony actually had been taken by Brenda Baker, an anthropologist who worked on archaeological projects in the fort's cemetery.
Baker said in 2012 that when she moved to Arizona State in 1998, the fort gave her permission to take 15 skeletons for more study. The remains have been stored at the university since then.
Baker was unavailable for comment Thursday.
The skeletons were unearthed when the site was reconstructed as a tourist attraction in the mid-1950s. In the decades that followed, they became one of the fort's most-viewed displays.
In the early 1990s, the fort decided to no longer display the remains and said it would rebury them after anthropologists studied them. In May 1993, it held a reburial ceremony attended by British, American and American Indian officials.
No mention was made then that the anthropologists' work was unfinished and not all of the skeletons were reburied.
When the skeletons' actual whereabouts was revealed, some historians who attended the ceremony were angered.
Retired British Army Maj. Jeremy York, whose former unit traces its lineage to a regiment from the French and Indian War, objected in a letter to the president of the company that owns the fort.
"The military is a great brotherhood," York said Thursday. "It's a matter of honor to give a decent burial to these chaps."