I thought I would try to find some more articles on this Human Remains Working Group Report. I was aware of it, I remember hearing it mentioned (and even discussed briefly, in passing) on Start the Week recently, but I didn’t pay enough attention. I think I meant to, I think I made a vague mental note, but…well, we know how it is with mental notes, don’t we.
So here is a BBC article, which starts from the point of view of people who want the bones returned and then after several paragraphs mentions the objections of scientists and museum directors and pesky people like that. But here is another BBC article from last May, and this one starts from the scientific point of view.
The scientists are campaigning against the adoption of legislation already passed in Australia and the US which has seen thousands of specimens handed over to aboriginal communities. “These collections are central to what we do; if we have to hand some of this material over it will be tragic,” said Dr Robert Foley, an anthropologist from the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at Cambridge University. “There is enormous interest in human evolution; huge interest in how modern humans came out of Africa and spread across the world. These bones help us understand that.”
It also mentions the ominous precedent of NAGPRA in the US:
In the US, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Nagpra) has seen a steady erosion of collections. Claimants decide the future of the bones, whether to rebury or destroy them, or to keep them available for study.
Claimants decide. Not, claimants and scientists both decide, but claimants decide. Not good.