This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

It was good to learn recently of the decision, by the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum, to arrange for the decent burial of the crania of fifty-three enslaved people; crania which were acquired by Philadelphia physician and anthropologist, Samuel George Morton (1799-1851). Along with many other U.S. institutions, the Penn Museum has complied with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in repatriating Native American crania from the collection. Hopefully the burial of the bones of these enslaved people will encourage the Penn and other U.S. museums to take a more active approach in returning the enslaved ancestors of Australian Indigenous communities for burial.

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