Dutch museum to return 37 human skeletons to Malaysia

The Naturalis natural history museum in Leiden. Photo: Niels Pluto
The Naturalis natural history museum in Leiden. Photo: Niels Pluto

The Netherlands is returning several dozen skeletons stored at the Leiden natural history museum Naturalis to Malaysia following a request from the Malaysian government.

The skeletons, thought to be around 5,000 years old, were dug up by British archeologists in Penang between 1851 and 1934. In total, they found 41, of which 37 are now in Leiden. The whereabouts of the others are unknown.

Malaysia requested their return last summer.

‘Their presence and return to Malaysian soil will propel our archaeological industry, apart from being a great education and research tool,’ tourism and creative economy chief Yeoh Soon Hin told the Strait Times newspaper at the time.

‘We will continue to play a proactive role in preserving and protecting our cultural heritage. The skeletons discovered in Malaysia are the cultural properties of the country.’


A spokeswoman for culture minister Gunay Uslu told broadcaster NOS that the case is relatively simple because the skeletons are only 5,000 years old.

However, no decision has yet been reached about the return of a collection of older bones and artifacts, requested by Indonesia earlier this year.

Dutch naturalist Eugène Dubois collected some 40,000 fossils between 1987 and 1900 in Indonesia, including the skull and thigh bone of Java man, considered to be a crucial link in human evolution.

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