Working toward more ethical anatomical collections at the University of Cape Town

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Victoria Gibbon of the University of Cape Town has written a piece for The Conversation recounting how UCT is addressing some historical wrongs in the development of its human anatomy collection: “Skeletons and closets: How one university reburied the dead”.

I returned to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and examined the Human Skeletal Repository records. Unfortunately, I found 11 individuals with known names or dates of deaths or which were known to the donor in life. The research suggested these remains should not be at the university.
Fast forward to 2018 after a lengthy process of figuring out a way forward. With the university’s Office of Inclusivity and Change we have embarked on the initial phase of the restitution project. Of the 11 unethically procured sets of remains, nine are from the town of Sutherland in the Northern Cape. We decided to start there.

This case has been in the news in South Africa during the last few weeks, and this essay is a good opportunity to see the case from the perspective of a biological anthropologist.