The remains of nine Indigenous people, unearthed by archaeologists on the small Dutch-Caribbean island of St. Eustatius more than 30 years ago, have been returned by the Netherlands, ABC News reports.
The first inhabitants of St. Eustatius (known locally as Statia) are believed to be Caribs, a people originating in the Amazon basin, though multiple pre-Colombian sites have been found on the island. Further European settlement began with the Dutch in the 17th century, and later came under the rule of both Britain and France. St. Eustatius is currently a special municipality of the Netherlands.
The island’s culture department requested the repatriation, which took nearly a year to complete. Uncovered during Dutch colonial rule, the island is making an effort to recover its stolen artifacts and human remains from institutional collections worldwide.
Some of the artifacts and bone fragments, including boxes containing remnants of ceramic and shell food, date back to the 5th century, according to the government press release on Monday, and were uncovered during an excavation at the capital Oranjestad airport between 1984- 1989.
The remains were flown back on a commercial airline by two professors from Leiden University in the Netherlands, while the artifacts are expected to be returned over the next few months. They will be reburied with the help of a local cultural heritage committee in close collaboration with local residents.
A 2021 expansion project at the same airport led to the discovery of dozens more skeletons believed to be part of a former sugar plantation turned 18th century burial ground.
The government additionally wishes to recover artifacts now at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.