DNA analysis of human skeletal remains associated with the Batavia mutiny of 1629

WA Museum Records and Supplements | Updated 8 months ago

ABSTRACT – The wrecking of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie retourschip Batavia, and the subsequent massacre that ensued, is one of the most macabre events in the history of pre-colonial European activity in Australia. Human skeletal remains have been recovered during the excavation of sites on Beacon Island in the Houtman Abrolhos that are associated with the Batavia mutiny. Four individual burials were discovered between 1960 and 1964 and a further six individuals (including children) were recovered from a multiple burial excavated between 1994 and 2001.

The physical remains of those victims of the Batavia mutiny were previously analysed in order to estimate age, sex, stature and to describe their general state of health and any evidence of perimortem trauma that may have contributed to death. These data were interpreted in relation to historical and archaeological evidence to postulate who the individuals may have been, and to rule out other potential burials that occurred during the mutiny. There are, however, some inherent limitations with the anthropological analyses: first, familial relationships cannot be ascertained from the physical remains; second, it is not possible to reliably estimate sex in the immature skeleton. To that end, the aim of the present project is to study the familial relationships of the almost 400-year-old remains and to determine their sex based on molecular genetic analysis.

Teeth from nine of the victims were available for DNA analysis. Following extraction and decontamination, the pulp chamber of the tooth was drilled and powdered sample collected. With regard to sex estimation, attempts to type the amelogenin gene on chromosomes X and Y were ultimately unsuccessful, most likely due to the overall poor preservation of the remains. DNA analyses of the hypervariable regions within the maternally inherited mitochondrial genome, however, suggest that there is no maternal relationship between two of the children in the multiple burial, which has important ramifi cations for establishing potential identifi cations of the victims.

KEYWORDS: molecular anthropology; physical anthropology.

Author(s) Padillah Yahya, Silvana Gaudieri and Daniel Franklin
Records 26 : Part 1
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