Bones from the Torres Strait Islands

1 minute read

The BBC has an interesting article about the repatriation of skeletal remains from Torres Strait Islanders, held at the Natural History Museum, London: “Torres Stait islanders reclaim their ancestral bones”. Along with detailing some of the ceremonial aspects of the return, there is a hopeful note about the future of research on these and other historically unique remains.

Dr Richard Lane, former scientific director of the Natural History Museum and an architect of the agreement said that the islanders began warming to the idea of allowing the bones to be used for research as they learnt more about the work of the museum staff.
"When we got talking in the pub, the islanders started asking us 'what is this DNA business and how can we use it to learn more about our history?'"

The Torres Strait Islands are famous in anthropology as one of the earliest attempts to bring ethnographic, linguistic and biological study to a single research expedition (in 1898, carried out under the auspices of Cambridge University by A. C. Haddon and others). The expedition bears much similarity to “salvage ethnography” carried out within the United States in the early 20th century, in that the anthropologists were documenting practices and collecting materials that were endangered by Christian missionaries.