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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 29, 2004

Latest find of remains to be reburied with others

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The state yesterday determined that the most recent set of human remains found at the Wal-Mart construction site on Ke'eaumoku Street on July 22 should be removed from where it was found and reburied with the 43 sets of remains found since work began in December, 2002.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Cynthia Lin said construction is in the final stages of the $58 million Wal-Mart/Sam's Club project, but workers are keeping clear of a 10-foot radius around the latest iwi kupuna (ancestral bones) found there.

The remains were found during a test excavation next to where burials were previously found, said Deborah Ward, spokeswoman for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"It was a single individual buried in a semi-flexed position, which is considered indicative of a prehistoric burial practice," Ward said.

An archaeologist has determined that some of the 44 sets of remains found at six burial spots on the Wal-Mart property may be from the 1853 smallpox epidemic that struck Honolulu.

Iwi are sacred to Native Hawaiians, and their treatment is an issue of special cultural importance. In February, the state determined — in consultation with the O'ahu Burial Council and some of the cultural descendants — that the remains would be moved to a reburial site on the property rather than left where they were found or grouped with other iwi kupuna at another location. The latest finds will join that group under state supervision.

The state attorney general's office launched an investigation last week after a set of human remains found July 17 were removed in apparent violation of state law governing the handling of ancient remains. According to state law, when human remains are found during construction, developers must stop work immediately and call the State Historic Preservation Division, which is under the auspices of the DLNR, and the police department.

Archaeologist Akihiko Sinoto, who works under contract to Wal-Mart's general contractor, Dick Pacific Construction Co., moved the remains and did not notify officials for two days.

Wal-Mart purchased the 10.5-acre block bounded by Sheridan, Makaloa, Rycroft and Ke'eaumoku streets in May 2002 for an estimated $35 million. Lin said most construction is complete and stores will open in mid-October.

"Some of the pieces that remain to be done are the undergrounding of the utility lines, the construction of the ramp from below Sam's Club, landscaping and grading of the trolley area off Sheridan," she said.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.