First Burial Discovered on Honolulu Rail Route

Sophie Cocke/ Civil Beat

UPDATED 9/13/12 4:45 p.m.

The first human remains have been found along the proposed Honolulu rail route, ratcheting up the tension that has gripped the city's transit project when it comes to the sensitive issue of Native Hawaiian burials.

Members of the Oahu Island Burial Council, a spokesperson for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and state officials gathered on Thursday morning around the site where the remains were discovered.

The mood was both tense and somber as construction workers stood guard around a 3-foot by 20-foot long trench that was cordoned off with orange cones. Workers have been digging the trenches along the proposed rail route since April as part of a required archeological survey.

Hinaleimoana Kalu, chair of the Oahu burial council, told Civil Beat that the iwi had been found Wednesday evening.

At this point, it's not clear if the remains are Native Hawaiian.

UPDATED: In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, state officials said that a single human bone fragment has been found. The State Historic Preservation Division and the burial council have agreed to leave the bone fragment in place for now, and excavation work will continue on the surrounding area.

"Excavation around the bone fragment will provide better information about the cultural layer in which the bone fragment was found and how best to plan for this area," according to the statement from SHPD.

HART officials also released a statement saying that the finding was anticipated and that they were working with SHPD, the Oahu burial council and other stakeholders to ensure that the iwi was treated "respectfully, with great sensitivity and in accordance with state burial laws."

"This is not unexpected, in fact we have a protocol in place that is the result of months of collaboration and consultation with all parties, and we will continue to work together throughout this process," HART said in the statement.

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