Museum Returns Human Remains to Australia


Photo via NML blog

National Museums Liverpool is returning an Australian indigenous human skull after agreeing to a request from the Australian Government to return items from its collections to their country of origin.

Traditional ceremonies were held at World Museum Liverpool when the remains, believed to be of mixed Australian and European ancestry, were handed over to representatives of the Ngarrindjeri people.

The remains were purchased from Dr William Broad, of Liverpool, in 1948. He visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on Australian skeletal remains.

The event, which follows a private commemoration, involves indigenous rituals including a smoking ceremony using smouldering eucalyptus leaves in a bowl.

The Ngarrindjeri (meaning The People) is a group of 18 clans or lakinyeri who speak similar dialects and have family connections around the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu Peninsula and Coorong, South Australia.

In January 2006 National Museums Liverpool received a request for the return of all Australian human remains in its possession.

This is the first of the remains of three individuals being returned to Australia. Dates for the return for the other two have yet to be fixed. They will be returned following consultations with the Australian indigenous communities from the areas where they originated.

All three remains were brought from Australia many years ago.

One of the others was collected from Darnley Island in the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea by explorers on the voyage of the Rattlesnake in 1849. National Museums Liverpool acquired it from the Norwich Castle Museum in 1956.

The other remains are believed to have originated in north Queensland. They were given to National Museums Liverpool by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, London, in 1981. This museum had owned them since buying them in 1933.

National Museums Liverpool is returning the remains because they have strong cultural, spiritual and religious significance to Australian indigenous communities. None has been on public display, nor has been used for research or educational purposes.

All may have possible value for future scientific research in Australia. Studies are being undertaken into population relationships and movements, past diet, health, disease, medicine and mortality and previous cultural practices.

The remains will be kept in a keeping place at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

They will be given the culturally-appropriate care which National Museums Liverpool cannot provide. Eventually they may be buried if returned to their original communities.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool who is attending the ceremonies, said: “The remains entered our collections many years ago and it is fitting that they are being returned to their homeland.

“The repatriation of cultural items to their countries of origin is a complex, emotive and sensitive issue. National Museums Liverpool takes a decision in each individual case when items are requested for repatriation.”

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