‘Mur­der’ floated in new Batavia search


AN ex­pe­di­tion is un­der way to the Abrol­hos is­lands to dis­cover more secrets of the Batavia ship­wreck, the blood­i­est chap­ter in WA mar­itime his­tory.

And the re­sults from foren­sic tests on the lat­est skele­ton to be ex­ca­vated from the sands at the ship­wreck site show the vic­tim was in good health be­fore he died, the Univer­sity of WA Cen­tre for Foren­sic An­thro­pol­ogy’s Daniel Franklin says.

The Batavia, a Dutch East In­dia Com­pany ship, was wrecked on Morn­ing Reef near Bea­con Is­land — 60km off mod­ern Ger­ald­ton — in 1629.

Of about 341 peo­ple aboard, most made it to nearby is­lands, but more than 120, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, were bru­tally killed dur­ing a mutiny.

More than a dozen skele­tons have been re­trieved from Bea­con Is­land since the first find in 1960, and sci­en­tists have con­ducted so­phis­ti­cated tests, in­clud­ing iso­topic anal­y­sis, med­i­cal imag­ing and 3D vir­tual re­con­struc­tions, to learn more about their lives and deaths.

In 2015, three ad­di­tional skele­tons were found, be­lieved to be an ado­les­cent aged 12-14 and a man and woman aged be­tween 20 and 34.

But bone frag­ments in­di­cated more vic­tims might be buried in the area, and last year re­searchers re­turned to the site where they found an­other in­tact skele­ton.

Dr Franklin said his work on the bones of the lat­est vic­tim had now re­vealed they be­longed to a man in his 40s who was healthy un­til he died.

“We can tell that by looking at the state of his teeth,” the re­searcher said.

“They’re heav­ily worn and dur­ing the course of his life he’s lost quite a few of his teeth, but the bone has healed quite nicely.”

Un­like some of the other skele­tons, the re­mains had no vis­i­ble signs of vi­o­lent trauma.

“He may have died from drown­ing or ill­ness, but it doesn’t rule out mur­der, ei­ther,” Dr Franklin said.

“There are plenty of ways to mur­der some­one with­out leav­ing marks in the skele­ton.

“At the point of dis­cov­ery, we were the first peo­ple to lay eyes on him for 400 years. That’s very sig­nif­i­cant.”

The grave was dis­cov­ered thanks to the lo­cal shear­wa­ter birds.

“They bur­row down and bring the ma­te­rial that’s buried to the sur­face,” he said. “In this in­stance, they were scat­ter­ing teeth and other bone frag­ments.”

Dr Franklin said a team was back on the is­land to search the area around the grave site for “cul­tural ma­te­ri­als” such as tools, other arte­facts or signs of a camp site.

Grim relic: Daniel Franklin with a Batavia skull. Pic­ture: Daniel Wilkins

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