Wednesday | December 07, 2016
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Possible burial site discovered


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Human skeletal remains have been discovered at Pohakuloa Training Area, an Army spokesman said Wednesday.

Public Affairs Officer Bob McElroy said he was told by archaeologist Julie Taomia that the remains, or iwi, were found on Sept. 28 during an archaeological inventory survey in the Ka‘ohe Ahuapua‘a, Hamakua district, and appear to be an ancient Hawaiian burial site.

“It is a lava tube cave that has two chambers and there’s iwi in both sections of the cave. Because it’s in fragments, she can’t tell if it’s from one person or two people, but given the number of bone pieces, she believes it can’t be more than two people,” he said.

McElroy said the determination that the remains appear to be Native Hawaiian is based upon their location in a lava tube with traditional archaeological materials, including a hearth and kukui nut shells.

“We don’t know how old it is, but it’s old. It’s just bones,” he said. “There were no clothes, no fabric of any type, no artifacts other than what we mentioned.”

No funerary objects, sacred objects or objects of cultural patrimony have been recovered, he said, and no construction projects are ongoing in the area.

McElroy said the AIS is being done partly for an ongoing range project, “but the other part is just day-to-day business.”

“Part of our charter is that we’re responsible for all the natural and cultural resources on the installation,” he said. “In order to know what we have, we have to be out there looking. … The island is honeycombed with lava tubes and caves from earlier (volcanic) activity, so we’ve got a number of them up here.”

He said the remains have been left in place.

“In these cases when they find remains, they have to stop and they turn it over to the Native Hawaiians,” he said. “They take over the remains and they inter them according to Hawaiian customs.”

McElroy said the Army has notified the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, state Historic Preservation Division, Hawaii Island Burial Council and Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai‘i Nei, an organization dedicated to the proper treatment of native Hawaiian ancestral remains.

Kauanoe Hoomanawanui, Hawaii Island burial sites specialist for the Historic Preservation Division, said that in such cases “usually, there’s a burial treatment plan that’s developed after a review with the archaeologists of the AIS.”

Asked if it’s likely the remains will be removed from the site, she replied: “That depends on the burial treatment plan.”

Added McElroy: “In the past, sometimes they’ve re-interred (the remains); other times, they just leave it in place,” he said.

McElroy said discovering iwi at Pohakuloa is “not a common thing.”

“The area was used mostly for transit, and the times they’ve found (artifacts) in the tubes, they believe it’s been from temporary habitation, because the weather can change pretty dramatically up here rather quickly,” he said. “So (archaeologists) have often inferred from what they’ve found that Native Hawaiians were crossing the island and stopped and took shelter in the caves to gather water and cook some meals after they’ve hunted. Then they moved on. But why the iwi end up where they are, we don’t know.”

He said the remains are in a location unlikely be disturbed by military exercises.

“Once they identify it and mark it off, as part of the range briefing, we tell soldiers or Marines that they can’t go there,” he said. “On the map, we’ll put a colored overlay over it — a stamp, if you will — to say ‘this is no-go territory, so don’t go there.’”

There are federal and state laws governing the treatment of native remains, including the Native Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires the Army seek Native Hawaiian organizations and individuals who wish to claim lineal and/or cultural affiliation with the remains.

Interested parties may write Dr. Julie Taomia, Archaeologist, Environmental Division, U.S. Army Garrison, Pohakuloa, P.O. Box 4607, Hilo, HI 96720 or email before Nov. 15.

Email John Burnett at


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