Restitution of Namibian remains in 2014

Die Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin hat im März 2014 Gebeine von Angehörigen verschiedener Volksgruppen aus dem Gebiet des ehemaligen Deutsch-Südwestafrika an das National Heritage Council Namibias übergeben.

In einer Zeremonie unterzeichneten der Vorstandsvorsitzende Prof.Dr. Karl Max Einhäupl und die Leiterin des Council Esther Mwoombola-/Goagoses das Übergabedokument in Anwesenheit von indigenen Gemeinschaften Namibias.

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Restitution of skulls to Namibia in 2014

On 5 March 2014, CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin has handed over another 21 human remains to a Namibian delegation.

This follows an earlier commitment of Charité to identify human remains of Namibian origin in its anthropological collection and restitute them to Namibia. It is the second restitution in an ongoing process. Some more human remains will follow this path after the results of provenance research of the "Human Remains Project" will have been finalised during the next months.

Handover of human remains to the National Heritage Council of Namibia

In contrast to the restitution of 2011, the remains restituted in March 2014 stem from a wider variety of contexts. Not all are related to the colonial war of 1904/1908 against the Herero and Nama.

They come from various regions of the then German colony and were sent to Berlin between 1898 and 1913, spanning 15 years of German colonial rule in today's Namibia.

The table below and the following annotations give some more details regarding the origin of the human remains in question and the persons behind these remains as far as such information could be uncovered by our research.

All information is based on either historical research on catalogues, other documentation and archival sources, or on inspection of the remains themselves. As this combined provenance research provided sufficient evidence that these remains are actually related to Namibia and colonial times, we did not perform any invasive research like DNA or isotope analysis.

The Namibian Embassy will receive documentations of our provenance research with more detailed information.

Collection No. Remains Collector Time Place Sex/ Age Ethnic attribution Additional Notes
A 50 skull Zöllner 1904/5 Epukiro, Omaheke f 35-40 Herero(?)  
A 51 skull Zöllner 1904/5 Oviumbo (Okahandja) f 25-40 Herero(?)  
A 790 skull Bofinger? 1904 Shark Island f? 30-40 Nama related to the remains restituted in 2011
A 805 skull Lotz 1909/10 Buntfeldschuh (Sperrgebiet) m 6 San  
A 811 skull Lotz 1909/10 Buntfeldschuh (Sperrgebiet) m 30-40 San  
A 819 skull Lotz 1910 Zillertal / Kolmannskuppe m 30-35 Ovambo? name: Omaruru?; see below
A 1914/ 83 skull/ mask (*) Seibert 1912 Windhoek m 17-20 Ovambo see below (*)
S 591 skull Perbandt 1898 near Walfish Bay f? 20-30 Nama  
S 592 skull Perbandt 1898 near Walfish Bay foetus Nama unborn or stillborn child
S 593 skull Wissmann 1898 Okahandja f 10-15 Nama  
S 840 skull Kuhn/ Eggers around 1900 Otjituo f 20-30 San name: Tschũ!Kõ
S 841 skull Kuhn/ Eggers around 1900 Otjituo f 18-20 San name: ıKai
S 1322 incompl. skeleton Kaiserl. Gouvern. 1906 Outjo f 30-50 Damara killed by German farmer; name: Uikabis/Nikabis
S 1323 incompl. skeleton Kaiserl. Gouvern. 1906 Outjo f 12 Damara killed by German farmer; name: Nabuis/Nabnas/Namans
S 4011 skeleton Seiner 1911 Epata or Grootfontein m 18-20 San?  
S 4012 skull Seiner 1911 Epata or Grootfontein ? 7-9 San  
S 4013 skull Seiner 1911/12 Kalahari/ Omaheke f 20-24 Herero  
S 4014 skull Seiner 1911/12 Kalahari/ Omaheke f 19-20 Herero  
S 4016 skull Moritz 1911/12 South Namibia, Auras mountains f 30-55 San  
S 4017 skull Moritz 1911/12 South Namibia m 18-20 Nama  
S 4179 skull v. Zastrow 1913(?) near Grootfontein m 20-30 San  

Annotations to the table above

Collection number:
"A" numbers refer to the collection of the Anatomical Institute of Berlin University, now part of Charité. "S" numbers refer to the former collection of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde (Museum of Ethnology). The latter collection was allocated to Charité in 1986.

Due to the nature of the historical documentation, more details are known about the collectors than about the deceased. Collectors in the colony were members of the German colonial troops and/or colonial administration (Perbandt, Eggers, von Zastrow), physicians (Seibert, Kuhn, Bofinger), geologist (Lotz), geographer (Moritz), or travellers (Wissmann, Seiner).

Ethnic attribution:
This is exclusively based on information from historical sources. It is therefore often uncertain and can only represent classifications of the collectors and researchers at the time. We have put "San", if the historical sources speak of "Bushmen", and "Nama", if they speak of "Hotentots".

Sex and age:
This information is mainly based on anthropological inspection of the remains, in some cases supplemented by historical information.

Cause of death:
In more than half of the remains, traces of scurvy, anaemia and/or local inflammation point to malnutrition and difficult living conditions. While there are cases of strong inflammation, mostly of dental roots, which may have led to septicaemia and subsequent death, the individual cause of death could not be determined from any of the remains with high certainty. Historical records show that the two Damara women (S1322 and S1323), mother and daughter, were killed by a German farmer as a punishment for trying to flee from the farm, and that the four Herero (A50, A51, S4013, S4014) were most likely victims of the colonial war of 1904/08. The same is true for one Nama (A790) who died in the infamous concentration camp on Shark Island. Death from natural causes is recorded for three cases (A1914/83: pneumonia; S591&S592: assumed complications of childbirth). For most other cases, where remains were found in the environment or taken from graves, the cause of death remains unknown.

The equivocal identification of the individual related to skull A819 has been discussed in our published workshop proceedings. The mandible that was attached to this skull did not match the skull and therefore must belong to another individual. The origin of this mandible remains unknown, it has therefore been separated from the skull and will not be handed over.

(*) A1914/83:
Left half of a human skull attached to a plaster cast of the right head and face, painted in black. From the historical catalogues of the Anatomical Collection and from a publication by Hans Virchow of 1914, we take the information that these remains stem from a young Ovambo man who died in Windhoek at the age of 17 from pneumonia. Dr. Joseph Seibert, who worked as a government physician in the colony from 1910 to 1915, apparently performed an autopsy on this man and took the opportunity to preserve the head in formalin and send it to Prof. Hans Virchow (the son of famous Rudolf Virchow) at the Anatomical Institute in Berlin. Here, Virchow used the head to investigate the soft tissues and then proceeded to produce a plaster cast of the face and eventually the present combination of half mask / half skull. The other half of the skull seems to have been lost.