The remains have been part of a collection of the museum of ethnology in Berlin since the second half of the 19th century. Their exact origin and how the hospital came to own them remains unclear.
“It needs further clarification which parts of Australia the skulls come from so we know where to return them to,” Günther Schloterer, spokesperson for the Australian Embassy, told The Local on Thursday.
Charité signed a letter of intent on Tuesday to return the skulls as soon as possible. “We welcome the initiative for an appropiate return and contribution to a respectful reconciliation with Australia,” Charité hospital chairman Karl Max Einhäupl said in a statement.
What little is known about the skulls comes from 120-year-old inventory lists and markings on the skulls themselves. Australian experts and scientists are working to shed light on their history so they can be returned.
The actual return is expected to take place next year. “When it comes to that, representatives and descendants of the corresponding native groups will be welcomed in Germany to ceremonially take back the skulls,” Schloterer said.
The Australian government approached the Charité with the request to return the ancient remains recently, and now Namibia’s government is also calling for the repatriation of dozens of skulls that have been stored in German universities since the colonial era.