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Federal Government Funding Three-Year Research Project on Human Remains From West Africa at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, a three-year collaborative research project at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte will investigate the provenance of human skulls from German West Africa.

Among the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte are 477 human skulls that were brought to Germany from West Africa during the colonial era. The skulls are to be recontextualised as part of a three-year project carried out in collaboration with scholars from the countries of origin. The main aim of the project is to facilitate their repatriation. The initiative will receive some 715,000 euros, which will come from the federal government’s culture budget.

The skulls are part of the anthropological collections that the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz took over from the Charité Hospital in 2011. They include around 7,700 specimens of human remains from almost all parts of the world that were amassed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Around one third of these artefacts have a colonial legacy, having been acquired during the colonial period from the former German overseas territories in Africa and the Pacific region.

The origin of around 1,000 human skulls from the former colony of German East Africa has already been investigated in a pilot project, which took place between 2017 and 2019. This new project on West Africa builds on the expert knowledge acquired there. The skulls most likely originate predominantly from regions that today form part of Cameroon and Togo.

The Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz’s handling of these human remains is guided by the federally funded Guidelines on Dealing with Collections from Colonial Contexts drawn up by the Deutscher Museumsbund and  the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz’s own Fundamental Principles on the issue.