A collection of Aboriginal remains discovered at the University of Birmingham and at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, were handed back to traditional custodians from Australia in a spiritual ceremony today.

The ancestral remains were returned to the Australian people by museum curators and staff in the University’s College of Medical and Dental Sciences. They have never been used or displayed by either institution and have remained in storage for many years.

They were handed over in a special ceremony at the Australian High Commission, in London - pictured below. The collection, comprising of 11 skulls, will return to Australia, and be cared for in trust by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. 

University of Birmingham Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir David Eastwood said: “The University of Birmingham has a proud tradition of cultural engagement stretching back to 1900, when it was established as England’s first civic university.


“As a global civic university in the 21st century, we have a responsibility to enrich the life of both our home city and the wider world. We recognise the significance of the ancestral remains in our care, which belong with their own people, to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The ceremony was attended by Dr June Jones, Religious and Cultural lead for the College of Medical and Dental Sciences – representing the University together with two Student ambassadors. Dr Jones has worked on two previous repatriations to California and New Zealand.

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is operated by Birmingham Museums Trust, which is an independent charity that manages the city’s museum collection and venues on behalf of Birmingham City Council. Birmingham Museums Trust was represented at the ceremony by Adam Jaffer, Curator of World Cultures and Birmingham City Council by Councillor Ian Ward, Deputy Leader.

Cllr Ian Ward, Deputy Leader for Birmingham City Council, said: “I am pleased to be in a position to return these ancestral remains to their rightful home, as we recognise their importance to the indigenous peoples of Australia.  

“The city council, along with Birmingham Museums Trust and the University of Birmingham, has worked with the Australian government to ensure these important ancestral remains are now able to finally rest in peace in their homelands.” 


An Australian Elder, Mr Major Sumner, explained the significance of the ancestral remains, before performing a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony - pictured above. There followed speeches from representatives of the Australian Government, the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council. 

The remains are being returned from the UK to their traditional custodians in Australia with the support of the Australian Government’s Indigenous Repatriation Program. This supports Indigenous communities in pursuing the unconditional return of their ancestors remains held in overseas collections and within Australia.

For more information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or +44 (0) 782 783 2312. For out of hours media enquiries, call: +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Notes to editors

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The University’s College of Medical and Dental Sciences holds 10 Australian skulls within its anatomy collection.
  • The city council’s museum collection holds an Australian skull, within its collection area of natural science.  The skull was presented to the city’s museum collection as one of three skulls, by the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1913 as recorded in the Museum’s Natural History.
  • Birmingham Museums Trust does not display nor intends to display indigenous human remains. Remains of this kind are not being acquired by this museum or any other in the UK.
  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is operated by Birmingham Museums Trust, an independent charity that manages the city’s museum collection and venues on behalf of Birmingham City Council. 
  • It uses the collection of around 800,000 objects to provide a wide range of arts, cultural and historical experiences, events and activities that deliver accessible learning, creativity and enjoyment for citizens and visitors to the city.  Most areas of the collection are designated as being of national importance, including the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. 
  • Attracting over one million visits a year, the Trust’s venues include Aston Hall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Blakesley Hall, Museum Collections Centre, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Thinktank and Weoley Castle.  www.birminghammuseums.org.uk