Netherlands repatriates indigenous remains to Caribbean isle
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The Netherlands has returned the remains of nine indigenous people that archaeologists found more than 30 years ago on the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius, officials said.
The request for repatriation was made by the island’s Culture Department as part of a new push to recover artifacts and human remains held by former colonial powers and others to highlight and preserve St. Eustatius’ history.
Some artifacts found alongside the bone fragments on the island, known as Statia, date back to the 5th century, the island government said in a press release Monday.
“Our story is much broader and richer than even we thought, and it’s up to us to tell this story,” government commissioner Alida Francis said.
The repatriation process took nearly a year, and officials said that a local cultural heritage committee will consult residents about how and where to rebury the remains.
The Caribs are believed to have lived on St. Eustatius before the arrival of Spanish conquerors. The island later changed hands several times among Britain, France and the Netherlands. It is now a special municipality of the Netherlands with a population of about 3,200.
The bone fragments and artifacts including boxes of ceramic and shell food remains were found during an excavation from 1984 to 1989 at the airport in the capital of Oranjestad as part of a research project, officials said.
The remains were flown in on a commercial airline and were guarded by two professors with Netherlands’ Leiden University, government spokesman Johnson JohnRose told The Associated Press. Officials said the remaining artifacts will be repatriated in coming months.
In 2021, archaeologists discovered dozens of skeletons during an expansion project at the same airport that they believe were part of an 18th century burial ground at a former sugar plantation.
The government also announced that it is seeking to recover other local artifacts currently housed at William & Mary, a U.S. university in Williamsburg, Virginia.