Stealing bones: visiting professor discusses theft of Aboriginal remains



By JP Lepping

On Wednesday, February 9, Paul Turnbull, a visiting professor from Australia, spoke at the Niles Gallery in the Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library. The topic of Turnbull’s lecture was Edward Charles Stirling, an anthropologist during the late 19th to early 20th centuries who was known for his controversial collection of Aboriginal Australian remains.

Turnbull said many people felt Stirling’s collection of human remains was unethical, and eventually the Aboriginal people fought in order to have the bodily remains of their ancestors returned to them.

During the Lecture, Turnbull discussed Stirling’s desire to collect remains of the Aboriginal Australians for certain Australian museums. Turnbull suggested that though some of Stirlings actions may seem inhumane to a modern audience, one of his main goals was to build credibility for the Australian museums.

“Stirling’s principle ambition was to build the future scientific capabilities of the South Australian Museum,” Turnbull said.

“It was nice to get a different perspective, other than the regular customs we are used to,” UK Archeology student David Webb said of the lecture.

Turnbull is a history professor at the University of Queensland in Australia. Some of his publications include “South Seas: Pacific Voyaging and Cross-cultural Encounters 1760-1832,” and “The Meanings and Values of the Repatriation of Human Remains.”

“It has been great having Paul here and being able to get his expert experience,” Monica Udvardy, director of the International Studies Program said.

The UK International Studies Program sponsored Turnbull’s presentation. Turnbull will be on Kentucky’s campus until Friday February 18.

“I have enjoyed myself, and it has been nice to be on UK’s campus,” Turnbull said.