Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre

Repatriation of Tasmanian Aboriginal Human Remains

On June 25, 2014, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC), the primary organization representing the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, completed the repatriation of three Tasmanian Aboriginal individuals from the Field Museum.

The individuals’ remains were collected in the 19th century, when the Tasmanian Aboriginal population was nearly wiped out by invasion and colonization. Colonists, doctors, and natural history enthusiasts desecrated bodies of the dead and collected the skeletal remains as scientific specimens. Ceremonial burial grounds, massacre sites, and graveyards were repeatedly ransacked to supply the trade in Aboriginal body parts well into the early decades of the 20th century. Many Tasmanian Aboriginal human remains were accessioned into museum collections throughout the world.

In 1958, the Field Museum purchased a 7,000-item collection of Pacific cultural materials that included the Tasmanian human remains from Captain A.W.F. Fuller, an English collector who was active during the early 20th century. Fuller never traveled to the Pacific himself but bought collections from individuals, auction houses, and institutions. Field Museum staff were never able to find any specific information about the identity of the three Tasmanian individuals beyond the scant provenance information provided by Fuller.

Through the concerted and diligent efforts of staff from both the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and the Field Museum, the three people were transferred out of the Museum’s possession and were returned home to rest.