Via the New York Times, November 28, 2022
With its monumental Art Deco facade overlooking the Eiffel Tower, the Musée de l’Homme, or Museum of Mankind, is a Paris landmark. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to this anthropology museum to experience its prehistoric skeletons and ancient statuettes.
But beneath the galleries, hidden in the basement, lies a more contentious collection: 18,000 skulls that include the remains of African tribal chiefs, Cambodian rebels and Indigenous people from Oceania. Many were gathered in France’s former colonies, and the collection also includes the skulls of more than 200 Native Americans, including from the Sioux and Navajo tribes.
The remains, kept in cardboard boxes stored in metal racks, form one of the world’s largest human skull collections, spanning centuries and covering every corner of the earth.
But they are also stark reminders of a sensitive past and, as such, have been shrouded in secrecy. Information on the skulls’ identities and the context of their collection, which could open the door to restitution claims, has never been made public, but is outlined in museum documents obtained by The New York Times.