A museum in the UK has removed a collection of “shrunken heads” and other human remains amid accusations of racism.
The 130-year-old Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University, which holds about 500,000 artefacts of anthropological, ethnographic and archaeological significance, said it had ditched the items as part of its efforts to “decolonise” its collection.
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Among the items were 150 so-called shrunken heads, known as Shuar Tsanta to the Shuar and Achuar people of South America, as well as Naga trophy heads and an Egyptian mummified child.
Some of the museum’s items were acquired as the expanding British Empire collected and classified items from around the world and it faced accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity for continuing to display them, according to the Associated Press.
“Our audience research has shown that visitors often saw the museum’s displays of human remains as a testament to other cultures being ‘savage’, ‘primitive’ or ‘gruesome’,’’ museum director Laura Van Broekhoven said, according to AP.
“Rather than enabling our visitors to reach a deeper understanding of each other’s ways of being, the displays reinforced racist and stereotypical thinking that goes against the museum’s values today.’’
The museum said it began ethically reviewing its collection in 2017.
Removed human remains are being held in storage as the museum talks with descendant communities around the world about how to care for them.
It’s the latest example of the global Black Lives Matter movement forcing communities and institutions to reckon with their colonial past.
A number of “racist” names and logos – across food brands, musical artists and even sporting teams – have been dumped around the world this year amid the wave of protests that followed the May death in custody of African-American man George Floyd in Minnesota.
In Australia, they included name changes for Nestle’s Red Skins and Chicos lollies, Sydney’s Captain Cook Hotel (now The Captain Paddington), and Western Australia’s King Leopold Ranges, which was named after a notorious Belgian monarch who was responsible for the deaths of around 10 million people in the Congo. Wunaamin-Miliwundi Ranges
The WA landmark is now called the , which combines two traditional Aboriginal names.