Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 14:56 UK

Museum returns Aboriginal remains

Museum returns aboriginal skull

Members of an Aboriginal tribe held a ritual in front of Liverpool's World Museum to mark the repatriation of human remains to Australia.

A skull is being returned to representatives of the Ngarrindjeri people because it has strong spiritual and religious significance.

The remains were purchased from Dr William Broad, of Liverpool, in 1948.

He visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on Australian skeletal remains.

The event, which followed a private commemoration, involved rituals including a smoking ceremony using smouldering eucalyptus leaves in a bowl.

The remains entered our collections many years ago and it is fitting that they are being returned to their homeland
Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool

The Ngarrindjeri (meaning The People) is a group of 18 clans or lakinyeri who speak similar dialects and have family connections around the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu Peninsula and Coorong, South Australia.

In January 2006, National Museums Liverpool received a request for the return of all Australian human remains in its possession.

This is the first of the remains of three individuals being returned to Australia. Dates for the return for the other two have yet to be fixed.

They will be returned following consultations with the Australian indigenous communities from the areas where they originated.

A replica of an aboriginal skull
The remains will be kept at National Museum of Australia in Canberra

Some of the remains were collected from Darnley Island in the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea by explorers on the voyage of the Rattlesnake in 1849.

National Museums Liverpool acquired them from the Norwich Castle Museum in 1956. The other remains are believed to have originated in north Queensland.

They were given to National Museums Liverpool by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, London, in 1981. This museum had owned them since 1933.

None of the remains have been on public display, nor have they been used for research or educational purposes.

The remains will be kept in a keeping place at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

'Sensitive issue'

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: "The remains entered our collections many years ago and it is fitting that they are being returned to their homeland.

"The repatriation of cultural items to their countries of origin is a complex, emotive and sensitive issue. National Museums Liverpool takes a decision in each individual case when items are requested for repatriation."

An Aboriginal skull of a 19th Century warrior called Yagan was handed back by Liverpool City Museum in 1997 after it had been buried in Everton Cemetery.

It sparked a wave of controversy on its return to Australia when community leaders could not decide where to bury it and others saying it should never have been brought back.

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