Prestwich skeletons: memorial for Green Point

While archaeologists moved back on site to exhume skeletons from Prestwich Street this week, plans are afoot that could see a large section of Green Point become a heritage area with a museum housing the excavated human skeletons forming a central focus.

On Monday developers Ari Efstathiou and Andre van der Merwe, owners of the Prestwich Street site where the skeletons were found, said they had been in discussion with the city council and the SA Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) about a proposal that would use a section of Green Point for a memorial to all the people who were buried at sites in the area.

"We've got no further development plans in the area and we've fulfilled the permit requirements laid down by Sahra," Efstathiou said.

"We've found a suitable site at Somerset Hospital to store the human remains that will be excavated now that the archaeologists are working there again. We could walk away now, because our part is done.

"But we've learnt a lot since we started the development project in May 2003, a lot about history, about public participation. We were also the guinea pigs of the new legislation which dealt with human remains.

"It's been frustrating for us, but we've always supported the idea of preserving history.

"We'd like to find a way to put back what we have learnt in a way that can improve the district.

"We don't want to be prescriptive, but we're in a position to be the catalyst."

Efstathiou and Van der Merwe said they had had preliminary discussions with the city council, Sahra, a UCT archaeologist, developers and some multinational companies, all of whom had been positive.

They envisage a central memorial park, with a museum to house the human remains, and a "history route" with interpretive signs, graphics, murals and artefacts that would lead to the park.

Said Van der Merwe: "It could be a wonderful, unifying project. Based on the evidence which is coming out, everybody was buried there, so everyone in Cape Town should have an interest in the area."

Archaeologist Tim Hart, who is supervising the exhumation project, said he supported the idea of a special conservation area that would acknowledge the people whose remains lay in Green Point.

Exhumation of the human skeletons was allowed to go ahead after Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan turned down an appeal by the Hands-Off Prestwich Street Committee to have excavations stopped and the skeletons reinterred on site.

Some of the conditions Jordan laid down were that a suitable temporary storage site be found for the skeletons and that the city council consider creating a memorial park.

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