Reappraisal of the contexts of appropriation and acquisition of human remains in the collections of the Ethnologischen Museums

Provenance research on human remains in ethnological collections is of particular importance. Thus, it concerns the remains of human individuals that entered the collections of ethnological museums also due to racist scientific and collecting practices.

There are approximately 2,000 human remains in the collections of the Ethnological Museum. Collections of human remains were created at different times and for different motives. They are closely linked to the emergence of Anthropology as a scientific discipline in the second half of the 19th century. What they have in common is that they were not treated as human remains, but rather as objects of natural science.

A first goal of the provenance research on the human remains in the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin is an inventory. Subsequently, an initial categorization of the remains will be made to develop a work plan to determine the priority of research into the contexts of acquisition and appropriation.

Special priority will be given to researching the contexts of appropriation of the skulls of the anthropological collections that remained in the Ethnologisches Museum. Urgent attention will be given to remains with little or no provenance information.

Additionally, an internal dialogue in the museums on the handling of human remains will be initiated with the aim of developing a position towards the handling of human remains in the collections of the Ethnologisches Museum. An open dialogue with different interest groups is to be initiated about the future of human remains. This involves in particular the inclusion of stakeholders from societies of origin in order to discuss the further handling of human remains.


Institution: Zentralarchiv of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project collaborator: Ilja Labischinski
Duration: 2019 until 2022