Screen legend John Barrymore, who starred in 20th Century and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, spotted the artefact in an unoccupied village, and his yacht crew members sawed the 40-foot (12.2-metre) item into three pieces and brought it onboard.

It was then reassembled and displayed in the garden of the actor's Californian estate, where it remained until his death in 1942. Horror legend Vincent Price then purchased the pole, and later donated it to the Honolulu Museum of Art in 1981.

University of Alaska Anchorage professor Steve Langdon became aware of the artefact while looking at a photo of Price standing next to the giant totem pole in his garden.

"It was totally out of place. Here's this recognisable Hollywood figure in a backyard estate with a totem pole... that was surrounded by cactus," he said.

The photo started an investigation into the pole's origins, and he later discovered that the totem was used in burial rituals, and once contained human remains. Langdon told the Associated Press that the body in the pole was removed before Barrymore put it in his garden, but the whereabouts of the remains are unknown.

Bosses at the Honolulu Museum of Art were unaware that the pole had been taken from the village without authorisation, and in 2012 Langdon travelled to Hawaii to begin the process of returning the artefact to Alaskan tribal leaders.

Seven members of the Tlingit tribe travelled to Honolulu on Thursday (22Oct15), and "thanked Hawaii" for protecting the pole over the years, according to the Associated Press.

The pole was reportedly one of more than 100 totems that once stood in the old village of Tuxecan on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, the museum revealed.

The repatriation of the artefact was funded by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Process, People.com reports.