Human remains discovered on Robben Island have prompted an archeological investigation.

Robben Island Museum spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa says that although there have been discoveries of human remains in the past, this recent finding is a rarity.

“Ex-Political Prisoners have recorded discovery of human bones during extension of buildings of the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) in earlier years. It’s also important to note that the Maximum Security Prison was constructed over some leper graves. Robben Island Museum was used in the 1800s as a general infirmary for people suffering from leprosy, the mentally ill and the terminally ill. However, this is a rare occurrence in recent years.”

The remains were found in the MSP precinct in 2018, which is close to the Kramat, a sacred site for Muslims that was built to commemorate Sayed Adurohman Moturu, the Prince of Madura.

The Kramat on Robben Island (Source: Facebook, Rafina Raimatulla)

Ramboa says that due to the shallowness of the graves, the remains began to protrude and became visible.

“Following the discovery, RIM engaged with relevant specialist bodies for further investigation. The South African Police Services Forensic Pathology Unit and officials from Heritage Western Cape were called in for further inspection on February 28 2018. Judging from the shallowness of the graves (10cm) it is suspected that the site was most likely levelled during construction of the prison in the early 1960s.”

The rains could provide further information to determine where they belong in Robben Island’s multi-layered history. A preliminary inspection by experts suggests that the bones were buried more than 50 years ago.

Archeologists will be carrying out an archeological survey of the demarcated land area and will use “less destructive methods” such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GRP). Further tests to determine the age and gender of the person whose remains were found will also be conducted.

Once the survey and study has been concluded, an appropriate reburial will be carried out within the guidelines of the National Heritage Resources Act.

Ramboa assures tourists and locals that it will not impact any visits or tours to the island “as the excavation will not be conducted along the current tour route.”

Picture: Robben Island Museum, Facebook

Article written by

Ishani Chetty

Ishani is a vegetarian who is passionate about animals, social issues, the environment and current affairs.