The restitution debate and return of human remains: implications for bioarchaeological research and cultural ethics in Africa

  • Pearl Lamptey University of Ghana
  • Wazi Apoh University of Ghana
Keywords: Repatriation; bioarchaeology; restitution; human remains; bio-history; archaeological record


The calls for repatriation and restitution of African objects and human remains in
unlawful Euroamerican custody are gaining global momentum. This paper examines
how bioarchaeological analyses are done on legitimately excavated or acquired
human remains. Such studies are assessed in tandem with the negative eugenicist
practices associated with the looted African human remains that were studied in
Europe and America during the periods of slavery and colonization in Africa. It further
examines the issues surrounding the repatriation of human remains and discusses the
implications of this practice on the ethics and cultural rights of societies in Africa.
Excavated human skeletal remains from Begho are examined within their cultural
context as a Ghanaian case study. By exploring these issues, we are of the view that
the complexities in the nature of acquisition and return of human remains requires
a holistic comprehension from multiple points of view rather than from a single
subjective perspective. Such multiple approaches must include the need for adequate
provenance and bioarchaeological research to bear on the contexts and practices
associated with the anthropology of death in the societies of origin.

Author Biographies

Pearl Lamptey, University of Ghana

Graduate student/research assistant, Department of Archaeology and Heritage

Wazi Apoh, University of Ghana

Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of