Australian Repatriation

A technique common in colonial states is for colonizers to attempt to gain possession of the history of the colonized peoples to better control them. One of the primary ways this is achieved is through dehumanizing colonized people by ‘studying’ native remains without consent. To add insult to injury, most of the research being conducted with, and the conclusions being drawn from these remains were mostly based in pseudoscience. “During the 19th and 20th centuries medical officers, anatomists, ethnologists, anthropologists, and pastoralists collected ancestral remains for ‘scientific’ research linked to explaining human biological differences.” Rightfully so, aboriginal communities in Australia wish to reclaim the history and culture that was stolen. In most of these countries, the act of repatriating stolen bodies or aspects of material culture is a reasonably new phenomenon. In the case of Australia, where aboriginal remains were stolen until the middle of the 20th century and perhaps beyond, repatriation on  the government scale has only begun in the 21st century. In Australia between 1788 and 1948, thousands of Aboriginal remains were exhumed and examined, shipped off to museums and institutes without the consent of the aboriginal people. “The Australia government’s International Repatriation Program estimates that some 1,000 Aboriginal remains are still held in museums worldwide today.” Only very recently have Australia and the Australian people begun the process of repatriating this remains, and a primary issue currently being addressed is who gets the remains. Like any group of native peoples across such a huge amount of territory, the Aboriginal people are not a monolith, but since they have been subjected to so much brutality by a colonial government, their identities have been all but stripped. Even in comparison to native people in the United States, aboriginal representation and autonomy in Australia is almost nonexistent. “The South Australian Museum, for instance, only began repatriating its collection of 4,5000 Aboriginal remains this year.” Recently, a new website went online with the goal of providing the necessary steps for the repatriation of Aboriginal remains. The website seeks to educate Australians about the history of this side of colonization, as well as the importance of repatriation. The history of the relationship between Australia and the natives who inhabited the land before the existence of the colonial state mirrors that of American relations with natives in many ways, and the theme of repatriation is very similar to what we have discussed in class surrounding acts like NAGPRA. 

Government Site 

Aforementioned New Website

Remains being re-buried

Minoan Human Sacrifice?

There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the Minoans practiced human sacrifice, but as time goes on, evidence is making it increasingly clear that although it was not a common religious motif, human sacrifice in Minoan Crete did indeed occur. Three Bronze Age sites in Crete contain evidence of Minoan human sacrifice: at the “North House” in Knossos (LMIB), what is perhaps a religious building in Fournou Korifi (EMII), Anemosphilia, a temple near Mount Juktas (MMII), but for the sake of brevity and because it is by far the most published on, I will be focusing on the human sacrifice at Anemosphilia.

At Anemosphilia, a temple site located 20 miles from the palace of Knossos in a cave near Mount Ida, a group of human bones were found. Based on the bones, archaeologists have identified the remains of three humans at the site. The report that followed detailed a gruesome scene. Yannis Sakellarakis, the lead excavator at the cave at the time these bones were discovered, has been accused of skewing evidence for the sake of drama, but others say those who deny Sakellarakis’ evidence are simply Minoan-centric scholars who cannot stomach the idea of their beloved Minoans carrying out such a deed. Three bodies were found at the temple. A young man of about sixteen, an extremely tall (well over six feet) middle aged man, and a female who has been interpreted as a priestess. The boy was found in front of the tall man near a long piece of stone, which Sakellarakis has interpreted as an altar. Restraints were found near the both of them, along with a 16 inch knife. 

Perhaps most interestingly, an iron pendant was found near the priestess. At this time, iron would have been inexpressibly rare, (think a moon rock) and would have been needed to be found naturally. The presence of this object suggests that no matter what happened at Anemosphilia, the event carried significance. Because Minoans did not routinely practice human sacrifice, many questions have been raised about the purpose of sacrificing what looked to be a healthy adolescent male. Due to the timing of this sacrifice, archaeologists have theorized the sacrifice was a desperate attempt to stop environmental disturbances occurring on or near the island of Crete. Indeed the scene painted does suggest desperation, a priestess directing a huge man to seize an unwilling boy and drag him 20 miles to a mountain to sacrifice is dramatic, but does point to this event being very important.


the 16-inch knife

the site of Anemosphilia

one of the bodies found


Further Reading: