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German university seeks African input on human remains


Skulls and other remains were collected during colonial occupation

The University of Göttingen in Germany is calling on African researchers to help it decide what is to be done with its colonial collections of human remains.

The Sensitive Provenances project will award six fellowships to young African and Oceanic researchers for “broad perspectives on collections of human remains, their colonial histories and contemporary meanings and treatment”.

The university’s Blumenbach skull collection comprises 200 skulls and another collection 1,200 remains taken from colonised countries, including Cameroon, Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.

Debate over what to do with human remains obtained unethically for scientific purposes, particularly during colonialism, has increased in recent years in Africa and abroad. The University of Cape Town set out to restore 11 sets of human remains in 2019 to the communities from which they were taken. In 2021 Germany launched a funding programme to study its colonial history and consequences.

The fellowships will award a monthly stipend of €2,100 (US$2,400) over three months, travel costs, and a replacement and family allowance if necessary.

The organisers welcome applications from researchers that focus on history, archives, museum studies, anthropology, biological anthropology, indigenous studies, art and related areas.

“The long-term goal is to acquire the necessary knowledge to facilitate potential repatriation to diverse sites of origin,” the project document states.