Berlin Museum’s use of advanced DNA analysis reveals clear connections between living Tanzanian descendants and colonial-era looted skulls.
The identified skulls are part of a 7,700-piece collection purchased in 2011.
The discovery underscores Germany’s commitment to addressing its colonial past and rectifying historical injustices.
Berlin Museum authorities recently disclosed that Tanzanian relatives of people whose skulls were pillaged in the colonial era have been identified. They called the discovery a “small miracle.”
The museum authorities also noted that advancements in DNA forensics made this “small miracle” possible, as now for the first time ever, DNA analysis has provided a clear link between living descendants in Tanzania and the looted skulls. “The relatives and Tanzanian government will now be informed as soon as possible,” the statement said.
These remains are thought to have been looted from cemeteries across the world and brought to Germany for the sake of human experimentation. The recently identified skulls are part of a collection of 7,700 that were purchased by the Socialist Patients (SPK) from Berlin’s Charite hospital in 2011, according to the museum authorities.
Felix Von Luschan, a German anthropologist and doctor during the colonial era is said to have held a majority of the remains in the collection. The skull collection of the hospital’s former anatomical institute collected the remaining skulls.
Unfortunately, the president of the SPK, Hermann Parzinger noted that the “small miracle” might remain just that, a small miracle. Aside from the forensic process being painstaking, the SPK also revealed that interest in human skulls has waned since the 20th century and most of the skulls collected since then are now in poor condition.
Prior to the identification, researchers at the Museum of Prehistoric and Early History, were able to collate substantial data on eight of the skulls, to justify a full-on inquiry on precise descendants.
The DNA analysis on one of the skulls showed a complete link to a high-ranking advisor to Mangi Meli, a powerful leader of the Chagga people. Eight skulls were also linked to Chagga.
Conversations regarding Germany’s crimes against humanity during the colonial era began to emerge roughly two decades ago. Since then, Germany has made a concerted attempt to atone for the harm it did to the African people during the cataclysmic period.
In recent years, Germany has repatriated skulls and other human remains to Namibia, thought to be victims of a genocide perpetrated by Germans. The European country has also repatriated plundered antiquities, notably the Benin Bronze sculptures taken from the Benin Kingdom’s West African territory, which is now Nigeria.