N.C. State University Researcher Believes It’s Time for Museums to Return the Ill-Gotten Bones of Black People

Ann Ross working in her lab at NC State University in Raleigh, NC. (N.C. STATE UNIVERSITY)

An N.C. State University professor, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, says museums and researchers should change how they treat Black people and their remains.

Ann Ross, a forensic anthropologist who has worked on many cold cases in North Carolina, teaches biological sciences at N.C. State.

She and lead author Shanna Williams at the USC School of Medicine Greenville wrote “Ethical dilemmas in skeletal collection utilization: Implications of the Black Lives Matter movement on the anatomical and anthropological sciences.” The article was published in The Anatomical Record last month.

“It’s a call to have that conversation,” Ross said in an interview. “These collections — that [forensic researchers] use a lot and have been using, you know, for training and everything — most of them were acquired by dubious means.”

In anatomical and anthropological research, skeletal remains are key in and out of the classroom. They are used for training and to study how human societies and their bodies have changed. But Ross and Williams say many of these remains have been collected without consent, in ethically dubious ways, or to advance explicitly racist anthropological theories.

“We’re at this tipping point where this discussion of race, and ancestry, and identity really has come to the forefront,” Williams said. “There’s always been those kind of rumblings, but now there’s more of a willingness to face or, perhaps more appropriately, a demand to face these types of issues.”

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SOURCE: The News & Observer, Laura Brache