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Repatriation of Human Remains: Home

Resources for facilitating the return of ancestral remains and examining the issue from a critical historical perspective

What is this?

The purpose of this Libguide is to provide direction for individuals researching the historical context, ethical background, and legal devices involved with the repatriation of human remains in institutional holding. Although this resource can be a useful starting point for anyone, we are especially interested in providing a primer for individuals affiliated with an organization - such as museum, university, or archive - that they believe is in possession of exhumed remains.

This guide is not intended to provide resources for repatriating loved ones or family members who passed away in different jurisdictions or across national boundaries; the primary focus of these materials are historically marginalized and exploited communities, predominantly the indigenous or colonized, who have been subjected to extractive archaeology and cultural expropriation.  


Listed below are some common terms that will be recurring throughout both this resource and your own research. In the interest of clarity and consistency, working definitions will be provided below: 

RemainsThe body of a deceased person, in whole or in parts, regardless of its stage of decomposition. In different legal jurisdictions, there may be different criteria: some definitions will not recognize ashes or bone fragments as such.
Repatriation: To return something to its place of origin; in context, a transfer of ownership based on a preponderance of cultural, historic, geographic, or other relevant information.
Indigenous: A complex, intersectional identity that the United Nations Permanent Forum defines as a combination of historical continuity with pre-colonial societies; distinct social, cultural, or linguistic heritage; membership within a non-dominant social formation; and resolve to reproduce ancestral systems of distinctive communities. 
Cultural Object: A tangible, movable manifestation that carries intangible significance through representing either practical or symbolic importance to a cultural formation.

A Note on Terminology

Throughout this Libguide, there are numerous and recurring references that utilize the word Indigenous, as defined above. There is no one word that perfectly encapsulates or names geographically aboriginal, native, or traditionally residing communities across the word and this is justly so. The use of the term Indigenous is not intended to flatten or homogenize these cultures, nor is it a form of erasure for specific naming conventions of different origin. This term has broadly, albeit not comprehensively, prevailed as a generic term and has been reiterated here for lack of more complete vocabulary. Different terms, such IndianTribe, and Aboriginal have been used when they refer to specific titles of resources or legislation. 

QUICK TIPS: Search Keywords

The first step in any research process is refining your terms so that you know what to look for when exploring databases, repositories, and other search engines. Effective research always begins with effective language. On each page, you will find a short list of critical keywords that you may find useful when conducting your own research.

Engaging with the selected resources such as books and articles will help a user begin to develop and refine their own vocabulary for accurately describing their research aims, but these terms will provide you assistance in conducting your initial research.

General Resources

Although specific resources will be findable on each page of this Libguide, listed below is a short selection of both free and proprietary databases, directories, and indexes that can allow users to start their own research from a broader vantage.