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Underwater timbers related to the Batavia shipwreck being tagged by researchers off the coast of Western Australia.

Skeleton found at shipwreck site is a reminder of a brutal massacre off the Australian coast

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On June 4 th 1629, a contrived dispute in order to instigate a mutiny on the Duch East India Company vessel, the Batavia, culminated in the deaths of over more than 120 people. The bodies of the dead are still being discovered both in the sea and on a small island near where the ship ran aground. In 2016 archaeologists recovered a skeleton at the site of a shipwreck off Western Australia. The remains reveal the brutal past and coldblooded massacre of Beacon Island.

According to BBC News , the wreck site on Beacon Island was first discovered in 1963, and a mass grave filled with remains was located in 1999.

Researchers conducting excavations on the island this week have located a skeleton which they believe is an adolescent, and is thought to be linked to the Batavia tragedy. Two musket balls were with the remains. Marine experts are calling the find “extraordinary,” reports The West Australian .

The replica of the Batavia, the ill-fated Dutch vessel.

The replica of the Batavia, the ill-fated Dutch vessel. Public Domain

The tragic history of the island dates back to July 1629, when the Dutch East India Company ship named The Batavia became wrecked on a reef off Western Australia on its way from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies. The vessel carried a valuable cargo of silver and jewels. After losing the ship, most of the 341 passengers survived by making their way to Beacon Island, but mutineers among them spelled death for more than 120 victims - men, women and children.

Illustration from a 1647 Dutch book Ongeluckige voyagie, van't schip Batavia

Illustration from a 1647 Dutch book Ongeluckige voyagie, van't schip Batavia ('Unlucky voyage of the ship Batavia'). Public Domain

The discovery of the body is significant. Not only is the skeleton the first undisturbed remains to be found on the island through archaeological investigations, but also the musket balls and other clues give forensic archaeologists a chance to reconstruct the events that took place nearly 400 years ago.

Jeremy Green, head of maritime archaeology at the Western Australian Museum says of the remains, 'It is as much about knowing where the people came from, what their diet was, as well as how they died.'

Thought to be from the Batavia shipwreck and massacre of 1629, a skeleton is excavated by archaeologists.

Thought to be from the Batavia shipwreck and massacre of 1629, a skeleton is excavated by archaeologists. Credit: The University of Western Australia

'This was the first time that Europeans lived in Australia - albeit it wasn't in the mainland but it was here - so it's the oldest known European habitation in Australia. So it's got to be important,' Green notes.

The Western Australian reports on the skeleton itself, 'Its arms were crossed and, strangely, its skull sat perpendicular to the rest of its body. There were no signs of trauma but two musket balls lay alongside - clear indicators of the victim’s violent death.'

The mutineers of the Batavia, led by Jeronimus Cornelisz, had hoped to steal the valuable cargo by commandeering the captain’s vessel after he left to search for supplies, recounts The Telegraph . Cornelisz and his men murdered their victims by blade, musket, strangulation, drowning, and even poison. The captain heard of the massacre from survivors and returned with arms, eventually arresting Cornelisz and conducting trials and executions on the islands.

Illustration from 1649 edition of Ongeluckige Voyagie showing mutineers losing their hands and being hanged.

Illustration from 1649 edition of Ongeluckige Voyagie showing mutineers losing their hands and being hanged. Public Domain

While the recent discovery of remains is a sad reminder of horrific events, it is also a good opportunity to finally bring the past to light. Investigations will continue on the island and a virtual reality website is in the making, scheduled to be available online later in 2015. The website is hoped to allow people to see Beacon Island 'as it has stood over time.'

Previous archaeological finds on the island have included buttons, teeth, and bones.

More can be learned about the history of the Beacon Island burials at the Western Australian Museum website .

Featured Image: Underwater timbers related to the Batavia shipwreck being tagged by researchers off the coast of Western Australia. Credit: Western Australia Museum

By Liz Leafloor  

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