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Press release

Natural History Museum makes legal pledge regarding Tasmanian remains

The Natural History Museum yesterday undertook to limit the range of techniques involved in the data collection from the remains of 17 Tasmanian Aboriginal people, pending a full court hearing planned for 22 February 2007. The techniques that can be used are CT scanning, photography, measurement and written description of the remains.

In light of this offer the court has lifted the interim injunction - initiated on 11 February on behalf of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) - that prevented the Natural History Museum from data collection.

In November 2006, following advice from its independent Human Remains Advisory Panel, the Natural History Museum Board of Trustees took the decision to return the remains permanently to an appropriate custodian nominated by the Australian Government once the full data collection was completed on 31 March 2007.

The Natural History Museum is keen that this legal dispute is resolved in order to fulfil our Trustees stated intention to return the remains as soon as possible after 31 March 2007. Subject to the court's final decision, we are committed to completing the full data collection within this timescale and any delay caused by legal proceedings would be regrettable.

The Natural History Museum Trustees see the strength of both the TAC view and the scientific view, but their decision aims to meet the primary interests of both groups: on the one hand return to country; on the other a resource to underpin research.  Neither interest was seen as entirely outweighing the other.

The Museum's collections are a unique and irreplaceable resource to advance knowledge for current and future generations. At the same time we recognise the importance of the cultural and religious beliefs to indigenous peoples with respect to parts of its collection. That the Museum's actions do not meet with the TAC's complete approval does not indicate that their views are treated with disrespect, rather that we have striven to strike a balance that respects all perspectives in this complex situation.

Notes for Editors

  • This undertaking prevents the use of techniques such as molecular analysis of DNA and isotopes, which were planned as part of the full data collection process.
  • The Tasmanian remains have been available for legitimate study on the same basis as all other remains in our collection since they were first placed in the care of the Museum. The period of data collection agreed by the Trustees is the conclusion of the process of study that has taken place in the Museum.¬†
  • The Museum has for a number of years sought powers to consider the removal of remains from its collection in response to claims - action which was legally barred until late 2005. Reflecting the complexity of this task, the Museum has established an independent process and strives to approach the issue with sensitivity and transparency.
  • Information on the Tasmanian remains being returned can be found in the News Archives 17 Nov 2006.
  • The Natural History Museum holds a collection of 19,950 human remains dating back to pre-historic times. The collection originates in all parts of the world, with the majority coming from the UK. This internationally important collection is used in the study of human evolution.
  • Strict policies guide the care and management of the collections, information provision and conditions for access.
    For more information please contact:
    Natural History Museum Press Office
    Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654, email.