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Museum returns Aboriginal skulls

21 May 09 09:42 GMT

Oxford University has returned three Aboriginal skulls, held in its museum collection, to Australia.

It follows a request from the Australian government and the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee last year.

The government's policy is to have all aboriginal remains repatriated.

The skulls were acquired by University Museum of Natural History in the 19th Century. The formal handover was accompanied by a traditional ceremony.

Museum director Jim Kennedy said: "It was a pleasure to host Ngarrindjeri elders Major Sumner and George Trevorrow, representatives of the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee, who visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to oversee the transfer of the remains of Ngarrindjeri Old People to their care.

"As part of the transfer process, there were private and public smoking ceremonies."

Wandering spirit

Major Sumner explained: "Our belief is that when our people's remains are not with their people and in our country, then their spirit is wandering.

"They are unhealthy in the physical sense because it is like something is missing… there is a different type of energy, an energy you can feel when you are doing the ceremonies.

"I have done them in my own country - you can imagine the spirits, they want to go home but they can't."

Experts at Oxford reviewed the University's records for documentary confirmation, and were confident the remains belonged to the Ngarrindjeri.

The University also carried out an assessment of the uniqueness, scientific, and educational value of the remains, seeking the advice of external experts on these matters.

On the basis of these assessments, and the other evidence, repatriation was agreed.

The Australians say they hope other institutions will now follow Oxford's lead in returning remains to their lands of origin.

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