February 17, 2009

Brighton’s reluctance to return Aboriginal Skull

Posted at 12:02 pm in Similar cases

Continuing coverage of the fact that Brighton’s Booth Museum of Natural History have decided not to return an artefact that is made from human remains. The Australian government is now intervening in the issue, in the hope of finding a way of settling the issue.

Canberra Times

British council reluctant to release Aboriginal skull
17/02/2009 10:39:00 AM

The Australian government has intervened in a bid to get an Aboriginal skull returned to Australia and avoid a potential diplomatic row.

Museum bosses in England want to keep the skull, which has been turned into a water carrier, because it is extremely rare.

However, aware of the sensitivity of the issue, the Australian government has written to Brighton and Hove City Council urging it to reconsider.

The authority, on the south coast of England, has agreed to delay its decision on the artefact which originates from the Ngarrindjeri community in South Australia.

A delegation of officials and experts will now travel to the UK to discuss the issue later this year.

“I received a letter from the Australian government asking me to defer the decision on the water vessel made from a human cranium, which is the subject of the council report,” David Smith, Britain’s cabinet councillor for culture, told a meeting.

“A delegation from the Ngarrindjeri nation will be visiting Oxford later this year.

“I will meet with the delegation while it is in the UK to discuss the water vessel.

“I will make my final decision after this meeting.”

The British government recently revealed that in 2005 it held 382 sets of Aboriginal remains in 18 institutions but that many of those have since been repatriated under an agreement between the two countries.

A Freedom of Information Request has also revealed that in 2004 South Australia Premier Mike Rann wrote directly to Britain’s then-prime minister Tony Blair demanding that Aboriginal remains be returned.

The Ngarrindjeri skull relic has been stored in Brighton since 1925 when it was donated by FW Lucas, a local collector who brought back objects from across the world.

A representative of the Office Of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination visited the Booth Museum in Brighton, in 2005 to assess the scale and whereabouts of indigenous Australian remains in museums.

They asked for five items, including two skulls and two thigh bones, to be returned to their homeland.

Although the bones and skulls have since been returned, council experts recommended the water carrier should stay because it is not intended for burial.

Only one example of such a vessel is known of in an Australian museum and just a handful of examples exist in European collections.

The council says its policy is the same as other leading British museums holding such body parts.

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