Thursday, November 26, 2020

Forensic anthropologist to examine Red House bones

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A skull in a pot, six complete human skeletons and 36 incomplete skeletons which were found during excavation works at the Red House, Port of Spain were tested and found to date back to between AD 430 to AD 1820.

American forensic anthropologist Dr John Schultz will be visiting the country for two weeks next month to examine the bones.

The Red House

The Red House is the seat of Parliament in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  The original building was destroyed in the 1903 water riots and was rebuilt in the year 1907. The Red House is located centrally within the capital city Port of Spain. It is currently used as a meeting place for parliament and elections and for political uses.

House Speaker Wade Mark disclosed this during a statement to Parliament, Port of Spain International Waterfront on Friday where he provided information on the findings of bones and cultural remains which include one US dollar gold coin under the rotunda and parliamentary Chamber on March 26 this year.

The bones were found during the 1.5-metre deep excavation works at the Red House Restoration Project.

Mark said samples of the human remains were analysed using DNA at the Merriwether Ancient DNA and Forensic Lab at Binghamton University, New York and for radiocarbon dating (C14 testing) and N15/N14 testing to be conducted by Beta Analytic Inc Laboratory in Miami, Florida, USA.

“Honourable Members, the initial carbon dating revealed that the samples were in fact human bones dating from AD 430 to AD 1820,” said Mark.

“Results from the DNA tests confirmed that the samples of bones from which results were achieved, belonged to people living in Trinidad and parts of Central America during the period AD 990 to AD 1400.”

Mark said upon the receipt of the results of the radiocarbon dating, the Cabinet was informed and a committee called “The Red House Historical Cultural Heritage Team” was established to manage all aspects of the historical finds and to ensure conformity with best practices and international protocols for such material.

Bone fragments and artifacts found during restoration work at the Red House in a glass case at the Parliament building. Photo courtesy Udecott

This committee, he said, is chaired by him and consists of members of all stakeholder groupings.

Mark said when the bones were discovered archaeologist Peter Harris began the study of the bones but he died before his examination was completed.

He said the Office of the Parliament secured the services of Dr Basil Reid, senior lecturer in archaeology at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine.

Mark said work commenced under Dr Reid on July 1, 2013 which involved excavation and finds processing of all artifacts and biological remains in the areas earmarked for excavation.

He said over the past year Reid has developed a network of specialists in various disciplines to provide assistance when needed.

Research partnerships have been established with academics in the USA and Europe.

Mark said the lead archaeologist in conjunction with Dr Michael Sutherland and his staff have developed a Red House 3D archaeological geodatabase (GIS) and all information related to the discoveries is entered in this database.

The Office of the Parliament, said Mark, has also signed an agreement with the University of Central Florida.

This will facilitate a visit by Schultz and an assistant who will come to Trinidad for two weeks in early January, 2015 to examine and conduct tests on the skeletons and bones found.

Mark said at the conclusion of the project, an academic publication will be compiled and published, possibly by The University of the West Indies Press or an alternative publisher and all information gathered will be passed on to the archaeological sub-committee of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago.

Mark noted that this country was a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

To this end, he said the Cabinet-appointed committee has held four meetings with representatives of the three First Peoples’ groups in the country.

Mark said in harmony with their requests, the First Peoples have been allowed to hold religious ceremonies on the grounds of the Red House and the Cabinet-appointed committee has agreed in principle that all the remains of the First Peoples should be interred on the grounds of the Red House with an appropriate sign indicating the significance of the area. He said dialogue with these groups is continuing.

Mark said that a small group of workers, mainly university students, are currently at the Red House engaged in the final cleaning and cataloguing of the finds.

He said the first phase of the archaeological project is scheduled to be completed by January 31, 2015 and is on time.

Source: Trinidad Express

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