Archaeologists find bone along Honolulu rail route
HONOLULU (AP) — Archaeologists have found a human bone fragment along the route of Honolulu’s planned commuter rail line, the state said Thursday.
The discovery in the city’s Kakaako neighborhood could delay or complicate construction of the $5 billion transit system. But Daniel Grabauskas, the CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, said his organization was prepared for a find of this kind.
The State Historic Preservation Division and the Oahu Island Burial Council have agreed to leave the fragment in place for the time being, the division said in a statement.
They’ve asked the archaeological firm doing the survey to continue excavating the surrounding area. Excavating around the bone fragment will provide better information about the area and how best to plan, the division said.
KHON reported state archeologists determined the bone was older than 50 years.
Old bones have been found in the neighborhood before. About a decade ago, 64 sets of remains were found during the construction of a Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart superstore. Some of them were believed to belong to victims of an 1853 smallpox epidemic.
Burial council members visited the site Thursday, a day after the fragment was found.
HART said it’s working with the division and the Oahu burial council to ensure the iwi kupuna, or bone, is treated respectfully and in accordance with state burial laws.
“This is not unexpected, in fact we have a protocol in place that is the result of months of collaboration and consultation with all parties, and we will continue to work together throughout this process,” Grabauskas said.
Hawaii has a stringent state law protecting graves. The 1990 law prohibits removing, destroying or altering any burial sites except as permitted by the state and local burial councils. If a construction project encounters bones, the work must stop in the immediate area and authorities must be notified.
It’s important in Hawaiian culture to leave bones undisturbed because of the belief that people infuse their life force into the ground once they are buried. Since this process isn’t finished until the bones have dissolved, digging them up interrupts a person’s journey in the afterlife.
The discovery if the Kakaako bone fragment comes just weeks after city officials halted construction on another other part of the rail line in response to a state Supreme Court ruling siding with a Native Hawaiian woman suing to protect ancient Hawaiian burial sites along the route.
HART had planned to go ahead with construction on parts of the route while archaeological work was being done in phases on other parts. The court ruled the city should have completed a full archaeological survey on the entire project, instead of in phases.
HART now says no new construction will be done until archaeological survey work is completed.