Ancestral skulls and trophy heads from former German New Guinea. Approaching provenance and acquisition of a collection of culturally sensitive objects at the Übersee-Museum Bremen

Funding area:
Colonial contexts
Funding recipient:
Übersee-Museum Bremen
Federal state:
Contact person:
Bettina von Briskorn

Tel.+49 (0) 421 - 160 38 401

Type of project:
long-term project

The current project on the provenance of human remains from former German New Guinea which are stored in the natural history and ethnographic collection of the Übersee-Museum, focuses on 125 skulls. During the first year of the project, information scattered in various source genres was systematically compiled and as a result improved the knowledge considerably. For the time being, the four following different groups of collectors have been identified. First, skulls brought back from a voyage by a museum employee in 1912. Second, over-modelled Sepik skulls sold by the New Guinea Company and collected by a captain of the company in 1910. Third, over-modelled Sepik skulls sold by the Bremen South Sea Company, a sale that a member of the company arranged around 1913. Fourth, skulls having been collected by employees of missions and companies. In order to get to know more about the acquisition of the skulls and to identify the individuals involved further primary sources will be checked. Based on the findings obtained the museum aims at a dialogue with scholars and/or representatives of the communities of origin from Papua New Guinea and would initiate a repatriation of the skulls if desired.

(c) Übersee-Museum Bremen