‘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