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Indian Burial Ground

Remember last week when we dug up all those Indian bones and made puppets out of them?
It turns out they were buried over an Ancient Indian Burial Ground!
xkcd

A common explanation for supernatural goings-on in America, most commonly seen in movies: A Haunted House is built on an ancient Indian burial ground. The disturbed spirits of the ancients of the land then enact their bloody vengeance against those who wake them by turning off the lights, making hooting noises, creating flies and maybe, if they feel up to it despite being dead, killing people.

Sometimes this isn't known or revealed until the end, sometimes it's known only to the greedy land developer who just doesn't care as long as he gets it cheap, or to people who don't believe in such nonsense but will by the end of the movie.

The reasons for the ancient Indian burial ground are plenty. Burial sites are often connected with Ancient Elder Evil, and, in the USA, unless your definition of "ancient" is pretty flexible, that means Native Americans. Some tribes didn't give their burial grounds signs that they were graveyards, such as tombstones, memorials or rolling clouds of Ominous Fog. Native Americans are stereotypically assumed to be more magical, and hence will have niftier ghosts. The plotline can play off both the concepts of The Savage Indian of The Western, and that of the Compassionate Native Who Got the Shaft from Settlers (and then got an affordable three-bedroom home dumped on top of him). It's a good way to exorcise white guilt because, in some ways, all of America is an Indian Burial Ground.

Sub-Trope of Due to the Dead and Holy Ground. Note that in many cultures, disturbing graves or other places related to the dead is regarded as dangerous.

This is a mostly a Discredited Trope, mainly due to most viewer's recognition of it. If it gets used, it's often at least slightly tongue-in-cheek, humorous, heavily lampshaded or subverted. Or maybe it's a remake. In any plot with something weird happening, a Genre Savvy character may theorize that it's due to ancient Indian burial ground, even if they're in Europe or Asia. Note that this trope refers to Native Americans, not people of the country (or subcontinent) of India. The majority of the people of India are Hindu, and hence usually get cremated instead. This wiki does not, however, recommend desecrating burial grounds in India purely on the basis of this loophole.

Compare Gypsy Curse for a more European type of ethnic curse.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of The Incredible Hulk, the eponymous Hulk lands in a Wild West Ghost Town, which was 'ghosted' by the vengeful ghosts of a nearby Indian Burial Ground, who were disturbed by the greed of the gold-miners. There, he gets attacked by Pariah, an undead cowboy wielding a Glowing Green Rock infused with the howling souls of a thousand angry indians.
  • In one Donald Duck story, Indian Ghosts suddenly appear in Donald and the boys' house (after Donald made a huge short circuit by wiring all household appliances on one plug hole). Subverted, as the boys first think it's a case of ole' Indian burial ground, but it turns out, that it's an ancient Indian relaxation spot, and they find the house comfortable.
  • In Boneyard, a gargoyle jokes that the eponymous cemetery is built on the site of an Indian burial ground.
  • In the Gold Key comic Ripley's Believe it Or Not: True Demons and Monsters, they had a bizarre inversion that used an ancient Celtic burial ground supposedly protected by draconic monsters. When stones from the burial ground decorated with the dragon gods were dug up and used to make a pool at an English estate, the pool was supposedly haunted by a murderous lizard man for decades until he was driven out by exorcism. Fun story if not exactly believable.

    Film 
  • The movie Pet Sematary has a well-marked Indian Burial Ground that could resurrect the dead. As one might expect, they Come Back Wrong. It's also something of a subversion, because it's implied that the burial ground was possessed not by the spirits of the dead natives, as in most Indian burial ground stories, but by a wendigo, a cannibalistic demon that could possess humans. Well before the white settlers move in, the Indians recognized the danger of the place and stopped using it.
  • In The Shining, it is mentioned early on that the hotel was built on an old burial site.
  • Despite being found in parodies of Poltergeist, Poltergeist itself averts this trope. When Steven tries to get answers from the greedy land developer, his answer is along the lines of, "What's the problem? It's not like it was built on an Indian burial ground." (He's technically correct, as the subdivision in which Steven and his family reside was actually built over a regular cemetery; the curse-and-vengeance aspects of the trope still seem to apply, however.)
  • In Scalps, a group of students go digging in an Indian burial ground and have to face a restless spirit.
  • A ghostless version is used in Jeremiah Johnson. Johnson, after spending a good chunk of the movie getting to know his family and get settled into the life of a mountain man, is recruited by soldiers to lead them through the hazardous mountains to rescue a caravan stranded in Crow territory (Crow Indians are referred to as the more dangerous of the local bands in the movie). Johnson reluctantly agrees and takes leads them. However, they come across a Crow burial ground and Johnson refuses to pass through, saying its sacred and that even Crow people don't often step foot in them. The soldiers balk at his warning and ask how long it would take to go around. Johnson says it would take days and the soldiers press Johnson to lead them through the graveyard, which he does, warning the soldiers to go slowly in single file and be absolutely silent. They make it safely through the burial ground and get to the caravan, but when Johnson goes back through the sacred grounds he notices, to his horror, that one of the skeletons is adorned with his wife's blue bead jewellry. He rides home as fast as he can and finds both his wife and adopted son slaughtered.
  • In Identity after a few of the cast have been picked off by the still unknown antagonist, Clea DuVall suggests that maybe this is a result of the motel being built upon an Indian burial ground, as it is detailed in a brochure she read about the area they are in.
    • Given the subsequent events, this would have to be considered a subversion.
  • Within the Woods, a short film that Sam Raimi made in order to secure funding for The Evil Dead 1981, has Bruce Campbell disturbing an Indian burial ground.
  • In the original film version of The Amityville Horror, the house moved into by an otherwise happy family is revealed to be built on an Indian burial ground. As in, the Indians sent their crazy people to this land to die, though they didn't bury them. The bad spirits there cause the husband/father to grow his beard, become moody, and develop a worryingly close relationship with an axe.
  • According to the Crusty Caretaker in Twisted Nightmare, the camp is built on one.

    Literature 
  • Parodied in Kim Newman's short story "The Pale Spirit People", in which an Indian tribe in an After the End setting suffer from supernatural manifestations after locating their new burial ground on the former site of a suburban housing development.
  • Justified in Dead Beat, which establishes that reanimated bodies in the world of The Dresden Files have more power if they've been dead longer. Hence, necromancers prefer to call up the undead from the oldest burial sites a given continent has to offer. Or a local museum's dinosaur exhibit.
  • In the short story The Devil and Tom Walker, Tom meets with Satan and makes his pact at a site where Native Americans used to meet to worship the Devil until they were driven from the area.
  • In Tom King's short story A Seat in the Garden, one suggestion one of the white folks gives for the presence of a Native ghost in his garden is that his home is on an Indian Burial Ground. However, it's much more likely to be a mutual hallucination.
  • This seems to be the explanation for quite a few of Stephen King's stories, most prominently Pet Sematary. Though, as mentioned above, whether the weirdness is due to haunting or something else entirely is left ambiguous.
  • A twist on this came in a novel, The Marshal, about an apparent ghost who seemed to be, or think he was, Wyatt Earp in late-1970s California. His appearances, though, were always preceded by a whistling noise somehow identified as being used by Sioux warriors, and no one could find any record of Wyatt Earp ever meeting a Sioux. At the very end of the book, it was found that Earp's grave was right next to that of a Sioux — and something had caused the Indian's headstone to fall against Earp's.
  • In Sacred Ground by Mercedes Lackey, the book's villain invokes the trope by seeding a construction site with (stolen) Native American artifacts and arranging a few "accidents," causing the more superstitious workers (quite a few of whom are Native American themselves) to get spooked enough to refuse to continue working at the site. The book also plays with the trope in some other ways: messing around with Native American artifacts can bring on quite a bit of supernatural unpleasantness, and the ultimate source of the trouble that moves the book's plot is a burial site - albeit disturbed by erosion rather than the hand of man, which let out something very nasty the site was designed to contain.
  • In The Last Continent, Rincewind asks if the cursed beer warehouse was built on an Aboriginal Burial Ground or other sacred site. Subverted because he's told the natives said the builders were welcome to the land, it was completely unwanted and unsacred.
  • In Dorothy Gilman's The Clairvoyant Countess, Madame Karitska warns an archeologist against digging one up.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the episode "Pangs" concern a tribal spirit that gets released when Xander excavates some land for a building site. Amongst other things, it gives him a venereal disease. Which one? All of them.
  • Variation: the Supernatural episode "Bugs" put the killer bug infestation up to the fact that the houses were built on what had once been an Indian village. After the village was destroyed by the Europeans, the village chief cursed the land so that no white man could ever live there.
  • In an episode of Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Jerry has to go to the basement of the Atlas Dinner and discovers a stone plate stating it was built on such ground.
  • On Friends one of the things that Phoebe brings to adorn Monica's new antique dollhouse is a handkerchief ghost. She claims that this is because the house is built on an ancient Indian burial ground. And a toxic waste dump.
  • The harvest festival on Parks and Recreation was built on Indian burial ground. The local tribal chief puts a curse on the festival (in spite of not believing in such nonsense) in order to get some negotiating leverage. When the town caves to his demands, he performs a spurious ceremony to remove the "curse."
  • In the premiere of Boss some workers discover an Indian burial ground while moving a Christian cemetery located on top of it. This severely derails the mayor's plans for extending the airport onto that site and threatens to put a stop to a massive 20-year redevelopment plan for the area. The man who failed to keep the discovery from the media gets his ears cut off as punishment.
  • In The Waltons season 6 episode "The Warrior", an 101 year old Cherokee man and his son arrive at Walton's Mountain, in the Appalachians of Virginia. He explains that white settlers drove the Cherokees all the way to Oklahoma, and now that he is close to the end of his life, he wants to find his family's ancestral burial ground so he can be buried there as well. Keeping in mind that the story is set in the late 1930's, the Waltons explain that all they've ever heard about the Indians that used to live in the region are prejudices that they were scalping savages on the warpath. However, the old Cherokee man is very kind and they are moved by his plight, and try to help him. However, when he finds a memorial rock with directions written in the Cherokee language on where to find the burial ground, he discovers that it is right under the Walton's barn. He insists that the Waltons tear down their barn and purify the land, because they are desecrating it. Pa Walton does not believe him and becomes angry, though in private Grandpa Walton confides to the Cherokee that also being near the end of his life, he sympathizes with his desire to make sure his he buried with his family. The old Cherokee man sets fire to the barn and is arrested. Pa Walton doesn't want to press charges, he just doesn't want him to come back, but the old man says he will keep returning until he succeeds in destroying the barn. Meanwhile, Grandpa Walton decides there's only one way to prove if what the old Cherokee says is true, so he takes a shovel and digs up the floor of the barn. Sure enough, he finds not only Indian pottery but a human skull, confirming that the barn is indeed built over a Cherokee burial ground. The Waltons are left with their original beliefs in "morally righteous white settlers versus savage indians" shattered. The old Cherokee man dies from the stress in his holding cell. Deciding that "every graveyard began with one grave", they agree to let the Cherokee man's son bury him in a different, pristine part of Walton's mountain surrounded by nature.
  • In an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Hilda plans to put an Indian Burial Ground under an annoying neighbour's house, but Zelda stops her because that sort of thing affects the whole neighbourhood.
  • The Hawaii The Brady Bunch episode has the boys returning a taboo statue to the burial ground of the first kings to stop the bad luck they think it's causing. They end up running into an old archaeologist,played by Vincent Price, who's desperate to protect his find, ties them up for a while and talks to the big statue there.

    Pinball 
  • In America's Most Haunted, the War Fort has apparently been turned into a burial ground for the former soldiers there.
    War Ghost: "You dare disturb the burial ground of brave Confederate soldiers?!"

    Radio 
  • Inverted in an episode of James Lileks's radio show The Diner. In the episode, James visits the Haunted Diner, which is haunted because they built an Indian burial ground on top of it.

    Tabletop Games 

    Theme Parks 
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is apparently built on one, according to its back-story. It's said that this causes an earthquake on the third lift hill of all versions.

    Video Games 
  • Subverted in Psychonauts:
    Frankie: The camp is built on an Indian burial ground and-
    Raz: Oh my gosh! Indians buried their dead here?!
    Frankie: Ewwww! I hope not. No, stupid, they buried their arrowheads here.
    Thus neatly handwaving why so many psitanium arrowheads, the currency of the game, are buried around the camp.
    • And then further played with during Vernon's story about the Ancient Indian Summer Camp built on top of a Caveman Burial Ground.
  • Ghost Master has an Indian ghost with a shed built on top of his grave.
  • In Team Fortress 2's fifth Scream Fortress event, the Mann brothers have died and the mercs job is to push the other brother's corpse into a portal to Hell. Said portal was discovered by a mining operation taking place in an Indian Burial Ground. Said discovery also caused an army of skeletons to rise, acting as the neutral enemies for the map.

    Web Original 

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Family Guy ("Petergeist") parodied the film Poltergeist. Peter builds a multiplex in the back yard, then discovers that underneath is an Indian burial ground. He then finds an ancient Indian skull and uses it as codpiece. And then uses it to pee in. You'd think building a multiplex over an Indian burial ground would be enough to get him haunted for life, but noooo...
  • South Park:
    • The pet shop in the episode with the evil twins from the Mirror Universe was built on an Indian cemetery. Though, that wasn't enough to anger the spirits, as the owner, one night when drunk, dug up the bodies, pissed on their bones, and buried them back upside down.
    • "Margorine" parodies Pet Sematary when Butters' dad buries a dead pig (who he thinks is the dead Butters) in an ancient Indian burial ground to resurrect him.
  • Shows up in The Simpsons on two separate "Treehouse Of Horror" stories:
    • "Treehouse of Horror": It turns out the Simpsons' new house is cursed because it was built on Indian burial grounds.
      • When he discovers this, Homer calls the realtor who sold the house to him and angrily accuses him of keeping it secret. "He says he mentioned it five or six times."
    Lisa: An ancient Indian burial ground!
    Bart: Wow, this place has everything!
    • The graveyard includes tombstones for Geronimo, Sacajawea, and Mahatma Gandhi.
    • Hilariously, when the Simpsons try to negotiate with the house to live amicably together, it decides to destroy itself to escape them.
    • "Treehouse of Horror V":
      Mr. Burns: This house has quite a long and colorful history. It was built on an ancient Indian burial ground and was the setting of satanic rituals, witch-burnings, and five John Denver Christmas specials.
      Homer Simpson: (shivers in fear) John Denver...
    • It was also used in the main continuity when Krusty the Klown reveals that Kamp Krusty was built on an Indian burial ground. Subverted in that this fact is actually a sign of the camp's dismal quality, rather than actually affecting it. In the Simpsons' world, Krusty merchandise tends to be extremely shoddy and poor quality, if not outright dangerous to use.
  • In The Venture Bros., the Venture compound was built over an Apache burial ground. Their ghosts rise from the dead and wreak havoc every year. Usually Dr. Orpheus, necromancer extraordinaire, takes care of it.
  • In an episode of Drawn Together, it turned out that part of the house was built on an Indian burial ground, but the ghosts just wanted to build a casino.
  • In one episode of The Real Ghostbusters, the Monster of the Week was the result of toxic waste being dumped on an Indian burial ground.
  • The song "Rockin' the Suburbs" used as the ending song for Over the Hedge had the verse:
    ''In our house, safe and sound-
    Built on Indian burial grounds''
  • Mentioned on Rugrats when the Carmichaels move in across the street from the Pickles:
    Didi: Looks like someone's finally taking the Peytons' place.
    Betty: Yep, must be nobody told them about the house being built on an ancient Indian burial ground.
    Didi: Oh, Betty, that's just a myth.
    • At the end of the episode, Randy Carmichael jokingly wonders if "that ancient Indian curse" their realtor warned them about has manifested in their next door neighbor Stu.
  • When Dr. Doofensmirtz is about to get kicked out of his building in Phineas and Ferb, he tries to spread this rumour to make it unsellable. As all his endeavours, this does not work.
  • Yvon of the Yukon has one of the main characters bring a visitor on a tour of his town, noting a ridiculous amount of buildings built upon an 'ancient Indian burial ground.' The one thing that wasn't was the modern Indian burial ground, which uses the latest in technology to ensure nobody can build on top of it.
  • One episode of Back at the Barnyard had Otis disturbing the spirits of deceased house pets when he built a shack over where they were buried.

    Real Life 
  • In Seattle, Washington the famous Pike Place Market is built over an Indian Burial Ground according to historical record. This is just one of the many spooky facts about this location, no wonder people think it's haunted.
  • When construction began on the Superdome in New Orleans, the graves of the victims of yellow fever turned up. Some claim this was it took the Saints so long to have a winning season, though the Saints were a losing team before the Superdome was even conceived.
    • According to The Other Wiki, the Saints began play in the same year that the Superdome was designed so they were not yet a losing or a winning team. League rules of the time decidedly did not favor expansion teams, an expansion team of the time would not be expected to become competitive for at least a half-decade. The Saints needed two decades to get their first winning season, and several more to get their first playoff victory, and another two decades to reach the Super Bowl. By comparison, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who initiated their franchise with an NFL-record 26-game losing streak, were in contention to reach the Super Bowl in only their fourth season. And, by the way, that Buccaneer losing streak was broken...against the Saints, in the Superdome.
  • The prospective wind farm planned for a few miles offshore of Cape Cod has run into this among its many, many public relations problems. It's not so much the issue of a curse they're worried about as it is the protests of living Native Americans.
    • This is not, incidentally, an example of Native Americans practicing burial at sea; the wind farm is to be built on a shoal that's all that remains of a peninsula - where the Wampanoag buried their dead - that began to sink beneath the waves about six thousand years ago. To the Wampanoag, this is like building a power plant on top of Stonehenge.
  • In the state of Kansas, only Indians get to run true casinos, with a handful of exceptions which are mostly in Development Hell. Indian casinos must be on Indian land. Kansas City, Kansas had an Indian burial ground right in the heart of downtown; once gambling became entrenched on the Missouri side of the KC metro area, the Indians who owned the burial ground built a casino right on top of it. KCK tried to shut the place down, but failed... All casinos are cursed regardless, so it doesn't matter quite as much.
  • Also in Kansas, this time the Western half of the state, there used to be a roadside attraction built on an Indian Burial Ground. The nature of the attraction? The unearthed and lacquered remains of said Indians.
  • Land belonging to California State University Long Beach was found to contain an Indian burial ground/sacred site when development unearthed human remains. There have been occasional plans to turn it into a mini-mall or parking lot, but after the college endured protests it has been left undisturbed and undeveloped. (The remains that were revealed in the initial development were reburied by modern descendants of the tribe.)


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alternative title(s): Ancient Indian Burial Ground
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