Bones Wash Up on South Maui Beach, SHPD Notified

July 5, 2019, 7:20 PM HST · Updated July 5, 9:26 PM
Wendy Osher · 42 Comments
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Bones Wash Up on South Maui Beach, SHPD Notified
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By Wendy Osher

An unexpected discovery was made on Sunday at Mākena State Beach Park in South Maui where a human skull washed ashore followed by a series of bones.

“We’re sitting there and all of a sudden something rolled up on the beach. And I looked at it and said, what is that,” according to Terri Pfaff, who is visiting Maui from Clovis, CA.

Pfaff was one of about 15 people that witnessed the finding.  A fellow beach goer picked up the skull and delivered it to lifeguards, according to her account.

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“By then, four or five other bones had come up and people were taking them to the lifeguards.  And they were just shocked,” Pfaff explained.  “It was just very–a very strange feeling,” she said.

Witnesses say the surf was especially rough that afternoon, and was compounded by high tides.  State officials with the Department of Land and Natural Resources tell us that during high swells and high surf events the possibility of wash-ups is increased.

“It was really, really choppy.  The waves were crazy.  The lifeguards were on the PA system the whole time, saying stay out of the water unless you are experienced, and people were still going in it,” said Pfaff.  “The lifeguards were awesome, as a matter of fact, they saved a guy’s life when we were there.”

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Lifeguards turned over the bones to authorities.  Both police and state crews responded to the scene.  Archaeologists have since determined that the bones date back more than 50 years, and Maui police do not consider the area a crime scene.

Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources tell us that a burial has to be 50 years old to fall under the jurisdiction of the State Historic Preservation Division. If its less than that, it becomes a matter for the police and medical examiner.

The remains have since been turned over to the SHPD and will be treated in accordance with requirements outlined in the agency’s rules relating to the inadvertent discovery of human remains.

Those familiar with the area tell us that this is not a common occurrence, but recall an incident in which remains washed up in the 90’s at the opposite end of the beach.  Those with lineal ties to the area expressed a desire to keep details surrounding the description of the remains private.

Dan Dennison, Senior Communications Manager with the state DLNR said efforts will be made to determine if the remains are native Hawaiian or non-native.

“If determined to be non-native, SHPD would consult with the cemetery, etc.  There are two ways this can go…if these are previously known burials that have washed up previously what then happens to them is a matter for each island burial council.  If not previously known, it’s up to SHPD to determine handling and the preference is always to leave bones in place, if it can be done safely,” said Dennison.

“If determined to be Native Hawaiian (more than 50 years old) and again associated with a previous wash-up event, the island burial council will determine reinterment process,” Dennison explained.

State officials maintain that findings like this don’t happen all that often, but they do happen. Authorities say it’s more common that burials are uncovered during construction activity.  SHPD reportedly receives calls about bones nearly every day of the week.  “The vast majority are determined not to be human,” said Dennison.

Those who happened upon the Mākena remains are hopping that the bones are reunited with their family and ancestors.

“I think we were all kind of in shock and couldn’t believe that it had happened.  I don’t think that happens too often…  But I almost felt like the person was saying, ‘Hey, get me out of here, I want to go home, you know.’  And that’s how I have to think of it.”

*Story by Wendy Osher. Video: Gaylord Paul Garcia.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served nearly 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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