It's taken nearly 70 years, but now New Zealand's oldest human remains have been repatriated to their Marlborough iwi in a ceremony at the Canterbury Museum.
The handing over of the remains was a spiritual occasion for the Rangitane Iwi, which had fought for years to have the remains brought home and during the ceremony there was an outpouring of emotion among those gathered.
The caskets, specially built for the event, hold the remains of 53 tupuna (ancestors and/or their deeds), thought to be about 700 years old.
The bones were unearthed decades ago and will now return home to Wairau Bar in Marlborough.
It was also a historic moment for the Canterbury Museum, where the bones were held until their return.
Anthony Wright of the Canterbury Museum says from the museum's point of view the bones are important.
"They represent what is probably the founding population or one of the founding populations of New Zealand".
But he says he understands that for Maori, spiritually, they are ancestors.
"They are perhaps ancestors of all Maori today, so they are incredibly important and they quite rightly wish to have them laid to rest back in the ground," says Wright.
Reverend Maurice Gray of Ngai Tahu who was at the ceremony says the remains could be perceived as being the seabed of all generations of successive descendants of the Maori tribal peoples.
Tuesday's handing over comes after years of heated debate with all parties now relieved an end is in sight.
Wright says there's a sense of relief and that it's a great culmination of effort from all parties.
"We've probably come full-circle. We've learned a tremendous amount from these tupuna over the years. Some wonderful research has just been completed, and I guess that brings it to the end of a chapter and it's appropriate in time that they be laid to rest."
After nearly seven decades in storage, the remains will be reburied on Thursday under the watchful eye of their descendants.