February 9, 2009

Aboriginal artefacts to remain in Brighton

Posted at 1:56 pm in Similar cases

Despite promising news from a museum in Brighton about the return of some artefacts involving human remains, it now appears that there are certain exclusions.

The Argus (Brighton)

Rare aboriginal relic to stay in Brighton
12:30pm Monday 9th February 2009
By Lawrence Marzouk, Local Government Correspondent

An extremely rare aboriginal relic is expected to stay in a Brighton museum despite fears it could spark an Australian backlash.

Brighton and Hove City Council plans to keep a water carrier made from a human skull that has been stored in the city since 1925.

A representative of the Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination visited Brighton’s Booth Museum, Dyke Road, in April 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 ancestral homeland.

Although the bones have since been returned, council bosses say the artefact from the Ngarrindjeri community in south Australia will stay because it is “not intended for burial”.

A report to the cabinet culture meeting said: “The water carrier is of great importance and rarity; only one example of such a vessel is known of in an Australian museum collection and just a handful of examples exist in European collections.

“The water carrier is made from modified human remains, worked on and with the addition of gum, shell and a carrying handle.

“We are aware of only two cases where a UK museum has returned modified human remains which were not intended for burial.

“If the Royal Pavilion and Museums returned this piece it would be in danger of setting a precedent impacting on other museums.

“Major collections such as the British Museum and University of Oxford Museums will only consider the return of modified human remains where it can be established that they were intended for burial.”

The report added there was no evidence to suggest Australian authorities intended to bury the water carrier.

But now the council is concerned its stance could spark bad publicity and a campaign from the Ngarrindjeri community.

In a bid to head off criticism, the council plans to make a statement on its website detailing the decision-making process.

And officers from the museum will make contact with representatives of the Ngarrindjeri community to start talks about the future curation of the object.

The piece was donated in 1925 by FW Lucas, a local collector who brought items from across the world to the city up until his death in 1932.

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