The sets of bones were removed
from a Kau cave in 1954
The University of Hawaii at Hilo announced it will return the three partial sets of remains, including those of a child, that were removed from a Kau cave in 1954.
"These are the final remains from East Hawaii in our collection," said Peter Mills, chairman of the UHH archeology department.
The remains were discovered in storage boxes during a federally mandated inventory of artifacts at UHH that began in the mid-1990s.
In the 1950s the University of Hawaii and Bishop Museum were legally permitted to receive such bones, and their removal was legal.
William Bonk, an ex-UHH archaeologist who retired in 1993, said these bones might have been removed during expeditions he led in the area during the early 1950s, when he worked as an archaeologist for Bishop Museum. Bonk said his team took the bones to protect them from the vandalism and destruction they saw in the burial caves.
Bonk noted that during the last few decades, people have realized that removing such objects "just wasn't right."
Under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, museums and federal agencies must inventory any collection of "human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects or objects of cultural patrimony" in their possession to facilitate repatriation to "lineal descendants."
"We have been staying in close contact with the Hawaii Island Burial Council of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources as we conduct our ongoing item-by-item NAGPRA inventory," Mills said.
About six sets of remains were discovered at UHH in an earlier inventory in conjunction with the state Historic Preservations Council. Those remains were returned to native Hawaiian groups in the early 1990s.
The three recently discovered sets of bones were apparently overlooked during that search.
Because no one has asserted claim to the latest discoveries within the legally mandated period, they will be turned over to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Punaluu Preservation Association, two groups that have a "shared cultural identity" with them.
Details of the transfer and final disposition of the remains have yet to be finalized.
"We still have a small amount of material collected on the Kona side from the 1950s through the 1990s, including soil samples and bone fragments," Mills said.