Human bones have been unearthed during excavation works on the beachfront of the Sapphire Sun Eco Village, south of Eden.
Three bones - confirmed as leg bones - appeared out of the sand, immediately stopping work last Thursday.
Police were called, the area was cordoned off, and the bones were taken away for forensic testing.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed the bones were pre-European and of Aboriginal descent.
The Office of Environment and Heritage is working closely with the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council to assess the archaeological significance of the site, and decide the final resting place of these historic human remains.
The human bones were accidentally unearthed at approximately 10am last Thursday by a local earth-moving company engaged to rebuild the beach wall of the Sapphire Sun Holiday Eco Village, south of Eden.
“The bucket came up, and three big bones were in it,” one of the excavators, who requested anonymity, said.
“They had obviously been there for a while.
"We stopped work, and called local police.
"We could tell right away they didn’t look right," he said.
Detectives from Bega Police arrived on the scene and cordoned off the area.
“They were worried about the high 1.9 metre tide that was predicted overnight, so they built a barricade of sandbags,” a park staff member said.
A crime scene was established and the bones were taken away for forensic testing.
Five days later, the results were made public.
“Due to the apparent age of the bones, NSW police suspected they may be pre-European and advised the Office of Environment and Heritage as per inter-agency protocol,” Michael Saxon, regional south manager with the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), said.
“OEH archaeologists visited the site last Saturday, and met with NSW police and representatives of the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council.
"OEH confirmed that the bones were Aboriginal,” he said.
On Tuesday, the remains - confirmed as leg bones - were released from the forensic laboratory in Queanbeyan and presented to the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council (ELALC) by OEH staff.
In a spine-tingling moment ELALC chairman BJ Cruse carefully unpicked the plastic enshrining one of the bones.
Time stood still for a few moments, as this remnant of an ancestor who had died long before European contact and the world as we know it, lay in the bright winter sunshine.
“We’re so appreciative of the positive response by the developers,” BJ Cruse said.
“There have been many cases of developers covering bones back over so that their development isn’t impacted.”
BJ Cruse explained there are different categories for managing Aboriginal sites, where ‘consent to destroy’ can be given in favour of developers.
“But the Aboriginal community has a policy where sites of burial, rock arrangement, and art are not negotiable.”
This week, the only workers on the beach were OEH archaeologists and members of the Aboriginal community, including Lee Cruse and Darren Mongta.
Appropriately, the two men looked like they were panning for gold, painstakingly sifting dirt from the excavator’s piles.
“My personal opinion is if there’s one person here, there may be many more,” Lee Cruse said.
“It’s a beautiful place and family groups would have gathered here, and I believe others would have also chosen this as their burial place.”
But BJ Cruse fears more bones may not be found, explaining that at the turn of the century the government encouraged desecration of graves, paying five shillings for Aboriginal skeletal remains which were handed over to universities and scholars for study.
Some of the largest collections still remain under lock and key at the Vatican, in Rome.
Two centuries of struggle to secure culture makes the discovery of these bones even more special for the local Aboriginal community.
With the bones in care, and a proper investigation supported on all sides, this is evolving into one of the great cultural stories of our nation.
But with the site an important tourist park for Eden, everyone’s stepping lightly on the delicate road ahead.
“We don’t want to stress the developer,” BJ Cruse emphasised.
“We’ll follow the recommendations agreed by the OEH archaeologists, and if more bones are unearthed we’ll decide how to respond appropriately,” he said.
(BLOB POINT) The Eden Magnet has compiled this story with the guidance and permission of the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council and Yuin elder, Uncle Ossie Cruse.
Murder mystery remains unsolved
As the official investigation into the human remains took place, Eden locals were left in the dark, causing the gossip wheels to spin.
Painful memories stirred, with many claiming the unearthing of the bones may have finally solved a murder mystery dating back 65 years ago.
For this gripping story, and further updates about the results of the archaeological investigations, don't miss next week’s Eden Magnet.