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Keywords:

  • Batavia mutiny;
  • bioarchaeology;
  • Dutch East India Company;
  • multiple burial;
  • palaeopathology;
  • physical anthropology

ABSTRACT

On 4 June 1629, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) Retourschip Batavia wrecked on Morning Reef in the Houtman Abrolhos, approximately 65 km off the Western Australian coast. The macabre events that followed the wrecking saw more than 100 individuals murdered over a three-month period by mutineers attempting to establish control of the surviving crew and passengers. The mutineers, however, never realised their ultimate objective of hijacking the anticipated rescue ship, and most were instead duly executed in the Abrolhos. Cultural and physical material directly associated with the Batavia mutiny has since been recovered, primarily from Beacon Island, which was the focal area of the mutinous attempts to establish control.

Between 1960 and 1964, four individual burials were recovered on Beacon Island; a further six individuals were recovered from a multiple grave that was excavated in stages between 1994 and 2001. The focus of the present study, however, is to briefly describe the skeletal remains of the multiple burial individuals only, including their demographics (sex, age and stature) and descriptions of potential palaeopathology (trauma, nutritional deficiencies and disease). Osteological analyses indicated an unbalanced sex ratio in favour of males; the age at death distribution ranges from about 8 months to no older than 35–49 years. It appears that prior to their untimely demise, the multiple burial individuals were mostly healthy, with relatively little evidence of disease, illness or ante-mortem trauma. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.