Museum Victoria holds an extensive collection of human remains (termed ancestral remains) in the Indigenous collections, gathered from across Australia and around the world.
The bulk of the collection comprises provenanced and unprovenanced Australian Indigenous ancestral remains. It contains a diverse mix of human skeletal remains, as well as a small number of remains comprising human soft tissue. Although the complete range of skeletal elements is represented throughout the collection, post-cranial elements are primarily associated with Australian Indigenous remains, while the overseas component of the collection consists mainly of crania or skulls.
The collection also includes a number of endocasts and cast bones. The cast bones include crania and post-cranial elements from Australia and overseas (the overseas casts are derived from significant African and European archaeological sites).
Over the last 35 years, Museum Victoria’s role as a repository for Aboriginal ancestral remains found in Victoria has been formalised under a variety of State and Commonwealth legislation. Pursuant to these requirements, Museum Victoria has taken receipt of three large collections of ancestral remains comprising a total of almost 2000 individuals (the Murray Black Collection in 1988, the Berry Collection in 2002 and the Freemasons Collection in 2003). As of May 2007, under the provisions of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic), Museum Victoria is now the official repository of Aboriginal ancestral remains that are in the temporary custody of the state.
Although concepts of significance generally encompass a broad range of values including social, scientific and historical, Museum Victoria formally recognises the primary significance of Indigenous views regarding the ancestral remains in its care. As the Ancestral Remains Collection is considered to be of profound contemporary cultural and spiritual significance for all Indigenous communities with members whose remains are held in it, further consideration of broader concepts of significance is not required. Museum Victoria maintains well developed repatriation policies and procedures that actively facilitate the return of these remains to traditional owners.
Museum Victoria’s active engagement with Australian Indigenous communities over the last 20 years on the issue of repatriation has seen the remains of more than 1000 individuals repatriated to traditional owner groups from across Australia and overseas.