The University of Aberdeen wants to repatriate the nine skulls that were stolen from native communities across the globe.

The collection of relics was gifted by naturalist and illustrator John James Audubon, who collected the bones from the graves of American Indians.

It is believed that one of the skulls was made from remains of an African slave in South Carolina. Audubon purchased the skulls in 1859.  

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen with the Benin Bronze which was returned to Nigeria last month

Neil Curtis is the Head of Museums and Special Collections for the University of Aberdeen. He holds the Benin Bronze, which was last month returned to Nigeria.

The skulls belonged to Passamaquoddy Indians from Maine, Mexico and Little Rock Arkansas Osage Indians.

The collection also includes skulls from India, Tasmania, and Inner Mongolia.

It is believed Audubon, who is most famous for his book The Birds of America, had an interest in bones which stemmed from his belief in the discredited theory of phrenology, which maintained that variations in the skulls of different races made their brains function differently.

John James Audubon, pictured, gifted the collection of the nine skulls stolen from indigenous communities around the world

John James Audubon, shown here, donated the collection of nine skulls taken from native communities across the globe.

The Audubon’s beliefs and activities are causing growing concern, so discussions about the possible return of the skulls have been a hot topic.

Last month, the Audubon Naturalist Society of Washington DC (ANS) announced it would change its name. 

The modern representatives of these tribes are being tracked down to determine if they would like to return the remains.

Neil Curtis from the University of Aberdeen is head of museums, special collections, and archaeological research.

“There’s also a skull that looks like it belonged to an African enslaved.

It is believed Audubon, who is most famous for his book The Birds of America, had an interest in bones which stemmed from his belief in the discredited theory of phrenology

According to some, Audubon’s interest in bones stemmed from his discredit theory of phrenology, which is why he is best known for The Birds of America.

“We are trying to identify which nation and which tribe they come from. We also want to know who the current representatives are of this people so that we can get in touch with them. They can then decide if they wish to have them returned.”

University of Aberdeen, which has repatriation protocols in place since 2003, is quite unique because it actively seeks out items that are ill-gotten.

One Benin Bronze was brought back to Nigeria by the University’s Museum. This was when thousands of artifacts were stolen from Benin City in 1897.

Curtis was a recent contributor to the Museums Association’s decolonizing collections guide. He said: “It is too simple for us in West to attempt to purify our consciences through returning objects without taking into account the consequences of what we do.”

“For example, if we are talking about the return of human remains, which is the best place to do it?

Mr Curtis recently assisted in writing the decolonising collections guidance for the Museums Association

Recently, Mr Curtis assisted with the writing of the Museums Association’s decolonizing collections guide

“Is it fair for us to attempt to force an ancestor to return his remains, even though he might not want them?”

“It depends on where you are in the world, and what your circumstances are.

“This isn’t about resisting repatriation. It is about making sure it happens properly.

“Our responsibility is to inform people that these items exist, to allow discussion and to care for them with respect.

“Sometimes even though things are acquired under terrible circumstances people don’t necessarily want them back or not yet.”

“Repatriations, when done with care and respect, can help to create new stories, good relationships, and a greater appreciation for the collections that we are caring for.

The university has the third biggest collection of items of world cultures in Scotland.