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2 October 2004
Aborigines collect ancestral remains

Aboriginal leaders have called on institutions around the world to return the remains of their ancestors that have been gathering dust in museums for up to 200 years. A delegation of seven Aborigines from around Australia has been handed 16 boxes of remains at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. The museum described Swedish scientist Erik Mjoberg's methods of collecting the bones and skulls in 1910 as "grave robbery".
     After Mjoberg smuggled 15 skulls and other remains out of Australia by telling customs officials they were kangaroo bones, they were transferred to the Museum of Ethnography in the 1930s. "We inherited the problem and now we are in the process of solving the problem," museum director Anders Bjorklund said.
     Some 13 of the boxes contain remains taken by Mjoberg from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. There is also one box each from Urandangie in Queensland, Bermagui in NSW and Camperdown in Victoria. The delegates will take their ancestral remains home and rebury them in the land from which Mjoberg took them 94 years ago.
     Delegation leader Ken Robinson hoped other institutions, notably the British Museum and Museum of Natural History in London, would take notice and relax their steadfast refusals to hand over their collections. "It's a huge step today, providing the other countries take note," Robinson said. "If the other countries just keep their heads buried in the sand, this will have had little effect.We'd rather these other institutions start volunteering to give the remains up."
     Britain's Natural History Museum holds more than 400 items of Aboriginal remains for scientific research, some up to 10,000 years old and others less than a century old, while institutions in the United States also hold collections. Two years ago, Britain's Royal College of Surgeons, the Horniman Museum in London and the University of Manchester returned several boxes of remains, including hair samples taken from Truganini. The British government recently published a paper that could eventually lead to museums handing over their collections.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (30 September 2004)

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