The human remains of an Aboriginal woman from Tasmania who had lived in the early nineteenth century were returned to Hobart, Tasmania earlier today. The remains had been acquired by the Anatomy Institute in Berlin, Germany in the 1840s and, more recently, resided in the collection of Berlin’s Charité Medical Museum. The Charité Museum, in returning the remains, was championed by the Tasmanian State Secretary for being at the forefront of the repatriation of human remains once taken by Europeans during the colonial period.
Despite requests by representatives of Aboriginal groups, museums are often reluctant to part with such ‘objects’ in their collections. Even if there is a willingness on the part of museums to return human remains – whether for moral or political reasons – the process of repatriation is not without its challenges. Often, there is a legal impediment. In certain countries, the inalienability of objects in national collections prevents museums from returning the remains.
These challenges – and more – will be discussed by a variety of museum professionals and legal experts in a forthcoming book to be published by the Institute of Art and Law later this year on Human Remains and the Law. Watch this space.