Netherlands to return dozens of skeletons to Malaysia
The Netherlands will soon return a large number of prehistoric skeletons to Malaysia. The Asian country’s government submitted a request to return the skeletons, currently stored in the Naturalis museum in Leiden, to State Secretary Gunay Uslu this summer. She granted the request in November, and the countries are discussing a suitable moment for the handover, Trouw reports.
The skeletons come from Guar Kepah in Penang’s western province. Around 1935, when Malaysia was still a British colony, Dutch scientists excavated 41 prehistoric skeletons. Naturalis currently has 37 of these skeletons. The whereabouts of the other four are unknown.
The speed at which this process is going is remarkable, especially since Indonesia also requested skeletons back from Naturalis and is still waiting for an outcome. Indonesia wants the Netherlands to return the Dubois collection, which includes the remains of the Java man, which is of great scientific value.
But the two cases can’t be compared, a spokesperson for Uslu said to Trouw. The Malaysian skeletons are only about 5,000 years old and belong to Homo sapiens - our own species. With human remains, the State Secretary can broadly act as she sees fit, enabling her to grant requests quickly, the spokesperson said.
But the Java man is a special case. Those remains are roughly a million years old and belong to an older human species. According to some, the remains are therefore less directly linked to modern-day Indonesia. For such fossils, requests must first pass through a newly established committee led by human rights lawyer Lilian Goncalves, which must establish whether the Netherlands obtained the fossil fairly or stole it during the colonial regime. That takes more time, Uslu’s spokesperson said.