Remains of history

March 27, 1998

I am writing following Cressida Fforde's article "Old bones of contention" (THES, March 13).

The Natural History Museum has within its collections items from human remains, the majority of which are ancient archaeological material from the United Kingdom. We also have a smaller amount of material from the rest of the world. Most of these collections have been donated by individuals and other institutions.

Museum staff handle the collections with special care and sensitivity. Access to the collections is restricted to bona fide scientists carrying out research on or undertaking study of human variation and origins, irrespective of nationality and ethnic origin.

The World Archaeological Congress requested access to our records of Aboriginal remains in 1991-92. Our archives were inspected, and we cooperated in checking details concerning our collections within the palaeontology department. Based on the information obtained, a paper was written by Fforde and published in the World Archaeological Bulletin in 1992.

Any formal governmental requests for the return of these collections are considered on an individual basis. However, the museum is governed by the British Museum Act, under which it is required to retain and conserve its collections.

Neil Chalmers. Director, The Natural History Museum

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