Penn Museum Moves to Bury Skulls of Enslaved People


The College of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum) is petitioning the Philadelphia Orphans’ Court docket for permission to bury 13 skulls on the town’s traditionally Black Eden Cemetery. The stays arrived to the museum in 1966 as a part of the choice of nineteenth-century doctor Samuel George Morton, whose racist theories relating to mind profoundly influenced twentieth-century eugenics. The skulls—which have been perhaps excavated from unmarked graves underneath the Blocksley Almshouse, a charity sanatorium that after stood at the grounds now occupied through the Penn Museum—are believed to have belonged to enslaved Philadelphians.

“It’s a actually vital second to do the fitting factor and recognize the problematic historical past of portions of this assortment,” Penn Museum director Christopher Woods advised the New York Occasions. “Those folks had been accrued below completely horrible cases—Morton preyed upon essentially the most susceptible and weakest of society. Those folks must be laid to relaxation.”

No longer everybody concurs that museum officers must decide the skulls’ destiny. Neighborhood organizer Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, who served at the Penn Museum advisory committee charged with deciding the way forward for the stays, has filed a proper objection to the plan with the Orphans’ Court docket, arguing that descendent communities must have care of the skulls. “Penn’s function is to offer us assets, and that’s it to undergo witness to that procedure however no longer be part of it,” Muhammad advised the Occasions. “They must no longer be those who come to a decision how a therapeutic procedure occurs. That’s easy oppression arithmetic.”

The museum’s efforts to correctly inter the bones mirror a international reexamination of the tactics during which establishments deal with human stays—a lot of which belong to unidentified Indigenous folks displaced through colonizers or enslaved folks abused through identical, and whose presence in museums continues to reify imperialization. In the US, scientists and African American communities have proposed law mirroring the Local American Graves Coverage and Repatriation Act of 1990, which calls for museums to go back stays of their assortment to tribes or descendants who ask for them.