Aboriginal bones slated for auction now returned to Australia
LONDON (AP) – A skull and other bone fragments discovered last year in the home of an elderly British academic were handed over to the Australian government in a solemn Aboriginal ceremony Thursday.
The handover was part of Australia’s effort to recover indigenous remains held across the world. The government has retrieved remains of more than 1,100 people from the UK since 1990.
Remains were sold to museums and trophy-hunters in the 19th century, Australia’s High Commissioner John Dauth said in a telephone interview.
Spotted by Australian diplomats as they were being put up for auction in November, the bones – a skull, a mandible, a clavicle, two femurs, and a host of bone fragments – were found last summer by an auctioneer hired to clear out the academic’s home.
The auction was halted after Australia’s High Commission in London intervened. The relics were handed to the Australians on Thursday in the presence of Aboriginal tribal elders before a brief ritual dance in a small park in central London.
“We came here with very mixed feelings,” George Trevorrow, an aboriginal leader, said. He said the return of the remains was important to Aboriginals spiritually, as some believe a soul is in torment unless the body rests in its native land. The Aboriginals, Australia’s original inhabitants, were devastated by European settlement and long denied equal rights.
“This helps us feel more human,” Trevorrow said. “Remember, for a long, long time we were not classified as human.”
Dauth said Australian diplomats were still in “lively dialogue” with institutions such as the Natural History Museum and Cambridge University over the human relics.
“There’s a real determination in my country to put behind us the appalling treatment of indigenous Australians in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” said Dauth.
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