May 12, 2007

Aboriginal bones go home

Posted at 12:15 pm in Similar cases

Following a court injunction earlier this year to stop testing on them, the bones of thirteen Australian Aborigines are due to be returned by the Natural History Museum.


Australian Aboriginal bones in London to go home
Thu May 10, 2007 10:13PM EDT
By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA (Reuters) – The bones of 13 Australian Aborigines held for more than 100 years at a British museum will be sent home within days, ending a two-decade fight for their return, Australia’s government said on Friday. The bones were taken without permission in the 1880s in a case which has been called “Australia’s Elgin marbles”, a reference to the row between Britain and Greece over Parthenon sculptures held in the British Museum in London.

“Aboriginal remains held in London will be repatriated to Tasmania within days following successful mediation,” Australia’s Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said.

Aboriginal elders in February won a court injunction stopping a planned series of DNA and imaging tests on the remains by Britain’s Natural History Museum, which holds the remains.

Four sets of Aboriginal remains were sent back to Australia last month.

Colonial era scientists were fascinated by Australia’s Aborigines, who may have lived on the continent for 60,000 years before British settlement in 1788, and stole or seized skulls and skeletons from graves, many of them from Tasmania state.

Tasmanian elders have been fighting to have them returned since the 1980s. Australia’s government backed those demands in 2003 after a British report recommended legal changes to enable museums to hand back body parts collected centuries ago.

Legal efforts led to a mediation process headed by Australian rights judge Sir Laurence Street and the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Woolf.

In 2003 British museums and institutions held around 5,000 aboriginal remains, while thousands more were held across Europe and the United States, according to an Australian lobby group, the Foundation for Aboriginal and Island Research Action.

Only a small number of those remains have been returned.

Aboriginal negotiator Caroline Spotswood said she expected the Tasmanian bones to be handed over to Australia’s diplomatic mission in London on Friday.

“We hope to fly out of the United Kingdom on Saturday with our ancestors in our possession,” she told Australian media.

Aborigines now wanted the return of other remains and ancestral belongings held in Scotland, as well as Oxford and Cambridge universities, Spotswood said.

Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders represent about 2.3 percent of the 20 million population but make up the most disadvantaged group in Australia.

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