In publica commoda

Press release: Human remains from Palau return home

No. 48 - 26.03.2024

University of Göttingen and State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony have handed over human remains from collections to Palau 


The University of Göttingen and the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony have handed over ancestral human remains to a delegation from the Republic of Palau. The human remains from the collections in Göttingen are those of seven individuals, those from the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony those of three individuals. The formal handover took place on Monday 25 March 2024.


As Minister Ngiraibelas Tmetuchl, Ministry of Human Resources, Culture, Tourism and Development, Republic of Palau said, "Mesmechang er a Kotel", meaning: “As a Matrilineal Society, our ancestral remains will now return to their maternal resting place”. Tmetuchl explained, “Ours is a society in which social roles and property are passed on exclusively through the female line from mothers to daughters and we are happy that the human remains of our ancestors are now returning to their maternal resting place.”


"The University of Göttingen shares the German Government's position that research must be carried out with regard to human remains in collections with the aim of returning them to their respective homelands," says Professor Metin Tolan, President of Göttingen University.


The ceremony with representatives from Palau is the latest step in the University of Göttingen’s endeavour to acknowledge and come to terms with colonial history, as well as establish productive relationships with post-colonial societies oriented towards the future. The human remains taken from Palau were acquired in the course of the “Hamburg South Seas Expedition” (1908 to 1910) of the then Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg. Ethnologist Paul Hambruch travelled to the Palau archipelago as a member of the expedition in 1909 and collected several human remains. In the 1950s and 1960s, they were handed over to the University of Göttingen.


Furthermore, in the evening of Monday 25 March 2024, the online exhibition “Unpacking Colonialism – Discussing human remains in German collections” was officially opened in the Forum Wissen - the University of Göttingen’s new museum of knowledge. It raises the following question: How should we deal with the human remains from colonial contexts that are still held in German collections today? Some initial answers are provided by five visiting research fellows who belong to societies from which human remains were taken. For several months, they conducted research in Göttingen in the framework of the Volkswagen Foundation funded research project "Sensitive Provenances: Human Remains from Colonial Contexts in Göttingen University Collections".


The online exhibition is available here:



Dr Christian Vogel
University of Göttingen
Centre for Collection Development - Knowledge Research Officer
Weender Landstraße 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
Tel: +49 (0)551 39-26692