September 15 2016

Expert Weighs in on Carved Head Found in Burlington Woods

By: Rich Hosford


The carved head


A carved head found in Burlington decades ago is still a mystery and at least one expert has taken an interest in trying to solve it. 


As reported on BNEWS, Forty years Mike Panico was mucking through a swamp between Route 3A and Fieldstone Drive on a quest to find turtles. However, it wasn’t turtles he found. During his search, which was after a drought in the area, he saw what looked like a head attached to a dead tree. He cut it off and it has been in his family ever since. 


Panico, who now lives in Florida, got curious about the head, which looks like a totem, and says he took it to an archeologist who examined it. The archeologist said that at first blush he believed it was quite old and definitely Native American. Panico is not sure if the archeologist was right or just trying to be knowledgeable, as he only spent a few minutes examining it and it was not his area of expertise. The head weighs about 4.5 lbs. and stands about 10 inches tall.


He decided to send it to the Burlington Historical Society where it is today. Since then, Society president Mary Nohelty has been trying to find answers. 


At the recommendation of the Smithsonian, She sent photos of the carving to consulting archaeologist and rock art specialist Edward Lenik. 

Lenik said he does not believe the carving is of Native American origin as it does not have similarities with other known artifacts. 


“The facial features are unlike the carvings and petroglyphs I am familiar with,” he said. “The few dendroglyphs or carvings on wood from the Northeast are nothing like this sculpture. It is also unlike the Mesingw faces and masks found among the Lenape/Delaware of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”


Lenik was able to offer some insight on the timeframe which it may have been carved, though not anything near an exact date. He said because it appears to be carved using metal tools it was done sometime after the 1600s though exactly when is unclear. It may be 400 years old or 40 years old, he said. 


Though he does not believe the piece to be Native American, Lenik did suggest a possible origin. 


“I wonder as I look at the face if it is not African American in origin,” he wrote to Nohelty. “The full lips are not typical in Indian carving, but are seen in African carvings. [The] suggestion that it was carved by a non-Indian in the Burlington area is a good one.”


So the mystery continues. Nohelty asks that anyone with information or insight send comments to her at




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