Clues to what happened before a deadly mutiny off WA’s coast may surface after a new mass grave linked to the the 17th century Batavia shipwreck was discovered at the Abrolhos Islands.
The University of Western Australia said the new grave, containing five sets of human remains and some artefacts, was discovered by an international team of researchers including scientists from UWA on Beacon Island, about 60 kilometres off the coast of Geraldton.
Almost 300 survivors ended up on the small coral island dubbed ‘Batavia Graveyard’ after the Dutch East India company ship struck Morning Reef in 1629.
A few months after the ship sank a mutiny unfolded, leading to the deaths of around 115 people, many of whom were murdered by the mutineers.
UWA Associate Professor Daniel Franklin said the discovery followed earlier findings on Beacon Island.
“A total of 10 individuals have been discovered in a central part of Beacon Island in the past three years during our research project, providing valuable new information about the events following the wreck of the Batavia,” he said.
UWA Professor Alistair Paterson said the discovery of the new grave had unearthed vital clues about what happened on Beacon Island almost 400 years ago.
“The communal burial discovered this month suggests careful and respectful burial, not the hurried work of hiding murder victims,” he said.
“These may be people who died in the days following the wreck but before the mutiny and mass killings were under way.”
Dr Liesbeth Smits from the University of Amsterdam, who excavated the bones, said the remains would now be tested to discover more about them.
“Isotopic analyses are allowing us to determine where these people originated from,” she said.
“Surprisingly many of them did not come from Holland, but moved there to join the ships of the Dutch East India Company.”
Jeremy Green, the head of Maritime Archaeology at the WA Museum, said the discovery was exciting.
“This latest find adds significantly to the wealth of information we have on Batavia, and shows that there are still very important discoveries to be made about the remarkable human story behind one of Australia’s oldest known shipwrecks.”