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The Troubling Origins of the Skeletons in a New York Museum

The Herero people originated in Namibia, which was once called Southwest Africa under German colonial rule. A dozen Herero descendants who live in the U.S. met with officials at the American Museum of Natural History in New York last fall to see and discuss the remains of eight skeletons that had been in the museum's possession since 1924. They were Herero bones, a legacy of a dark time in history.

A little more than a hundred years ago, German colonists stole these bones from what they called German Southwest Africa, following a Herero rebellion, in 1904. General Lothar von Trotha had moved quickly and brutally to put down the uprising. “Within the German boundaries, every Herero, with or without firearms, with or without cattle, will be shot,” he wrote in his Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order. “I won’t accommodate women and children anymore.” In what has been called the first genocide of the twentieth century, colonists pushed Herero into the desert and forced others into concentration camps. Sixty-five thousand Herero died. Similar tactics killed ten thousand Nama men and women. (Both groups have called on Germany to pay reparations, and will appear in U.S. federal court on January 25th in an attempt to force the country to do so.)

The story of how the skeletons came to be in museum's collection is gruesome, but it's only one example of the many human remains that were collected during an age when museums, universities, and other institutions gathered human bones from anywhere and everywhere for their anthropology studies and exhibitions. Read about the Herero bones, and what's being done about human remains now, at The New Yorker. -via Metafilter


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