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Human remains in museum collections and their restitution to the communities: Museum of La Plata – Argentina

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Author(s): Graciela Weisinger Cordero | María Del Carmen Maza

Journal: University Museums and Collections Journal
ISSN 2071-7229

Volume: 4;
Start page: 47;
Date: 2011;
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ABSTRACT
The intention of this article is to reflect on the challenges that museums face when collections include the human remains of indigenous communities. To debate the topic, the Museum of La Plata is used as an example. Part of the collection concerns the final stage of the "Conquest of the Desert" epoch in which the army caught the last chiefs and a group of indigenous – elders, women and children – who still were resisting the offensive in Junín of the Andes. The museum held captive the living aborigines for their study until September 1894. In Argentina, the first claims to the authorities of the university museum of La Plata were registered by the mid 80s. To date, the museum has repatriated the remains of a Tehuelche chief (1994) and a Ranquel chief (2001) to their communities. The problem of the repatriation of human remains, as well as the cultural objects associated with them, is an attempt to allow these diverse aboriginal communities to manage their own cultural inheritance in the manner that they deem most appropriate. Bringing ethical principles into play, they recover their cultural identity. It also addresses the bases upon which the anthropologic science constructed its ‘object of study’: the appropriation of fragments of the human reality to investigate and display them in exhibitions and museums. However, the demands by the different indigenous communities for the return of their ancestors are increasing. This has caused a division in the scientific community with some agreeing in the matter of repatriation, while others see the remains as belonging to the museums and that if they are repatriated they will then be lost to scientific research.
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