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Press release


Charité returns ancestral remains to indigenous communities in Australia

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In an official ceremony, the Charité today returned ancestral remains to representatives of indigenous peoples in Australia. In November 2008 the Charité was the first scientific institution in Germany to sign an agreement with Australia which agreed that remains were to be returned for the purpose of “a dignified burial”. At the ceremony today Prof. Karl Max Einhäupl, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Charité, reaffirmed this agreement and declared: “We respect and support the wishes of the indigenous communities of Australia to bury ancestral remains in accordance with their religious beliefs and within the vicinity of their ancestral territory.”

The Traditional Owners will accompany the remains to their homeland where they will be given a dignified resting place. The Australian Government also supports the indigenous peoples in this request.

In total the collection comprises of skulls and skeletal parts of 33 individuals. Most of the remains arrived in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and were preserved in numerous Berlin collections. Some of them arrived at the Charité only after 1990. The origins of these ancestral remains and the circumstances by which they were brought to Germany, could not be clarified in all cases. It is believed that German explorers received some skulls from local collectors, however the reliability of these sources is uncertain. In some cases trade with indigenous people and grave robbery took place. In general, the remains were acquired and transported to Germany for the purpose of anthropological studies and investigations.

Since 2010, the Charité has worked in the DFG-funded Human Remains Project under the directorship of Privatdozent Dr. Andreas Winkelmann, teaching coordinator Anatomy, and Prof. Thomas Schnalke, Director of the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité. The main aim of the project has been to determine the history of the skulls and the skeletal remains.


Privatdozent Dr. Andreas Winkelmann
Lehrkoordinator der Anatomie
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 570 400

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