Practicalities in the return of remains: the importance of provenance and the question of unprovenanced remains Deanne Hanchant
Between February 1995 and March 1997 I worked as the Archival Researcher on the National Skeletal Provenancing Project in Australia.The purpose of the project, based at the South Australian Museum, was to locate the original provenance of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral Remains held in Australian museums. Determining original provenance is crucial in facilitating the return of remains to communities. Unprovenanced remains numbered more than 1,000, which represented about one fifth of the remains held in such collections. The project used archival research in conjunction with biological comparison of unknown to known remains. During the course of the project, archival research (using sources such as museum correspondence, police and coroner records, collectors’ diaries etc.) provenanced 180 remains whose origin was previously unknown, and ‘unprovenanced’ approximately 20 remains which had previously been considered to be ‘provenanced’. The project highlighted the need for archival research to be carried out before remains are returned to communities for reburial, not least because it brought to light a number of ‘mistakes’ in earlier provenancing.