Items include the bones of “Java Man,” the first known fossils of the Homo erectus genus, unearthed by Dutch paleoanthropologist Eugène Dubois in the 19th century.
Indonesia has asked the Netherlands – the country’s former colonial ruler – to return eight collections of historical artifacts from the museums, including the bones of “Java man”, the first known fossils of the Homo erectus species from which humans would have evolved.
The artifacts, classified as “looted” by Jakarta, include statues from the ancient Hindu kingdom of Singhasari in Java, personal artifacts of an Indonesian national hero, and the bones excavated in Java in the 1800s by Dutch paleoanthropologist Eugène Dubois. , later known as Javaman.
“The main goal is to bring back the items and produce knowledge,” Bonnie Triyana, a historian and a member of the Indonesian team working on the repatriation, told Reuters on Friday.
Bonnie said the team’s main focus has been on state collections in national museums, including the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, which houses the Java man’s femur and skull. The request was filed in July, Bonnie said.
“These artifacts are a sign of a much larger event,” he said.
A colony of the Netherlands between 1800 and 1949, Indonesia was known as the Dutch East Indies and was an important source of wealth for the Dutch through the exploitation of natural resources and the trade in spices, precious metals and minerals.
Dutch news media reported extensively about Indonesia’s request this week.
Trouw newspaper reported Tuesday that the list of artifacts requested by Indonesia was extensive and included the completed Dubois collection in Naturalis, which consists of some 40,000 fossils excavated in Indonesia between 1887 and 1900.
“The absolute masterpiece from the Dubois collection, the remains of the so-called Javaman, is even explicitly mentioned,” Trouw reports.
A spokesperson for Naturalis told the newspaper that such a request was expected from Indonesia and that the museum will cooperate, although the issue of artifact safety needs to be addressed.
“We understand Indonesia’s claim. But the question is also: where can the collection be safely stored, accessed and researched? I think I know the answer,” Trouw quoted the spokesperson as saying.
The NRC newspaper reported that Bonnie, a member of the Indonesian repatriation team, said the list of eight collections and artifacts was just the beginning and that the Dubois collection and Java Man had been the subject of discussions between Indonesia and the Netherlands since 1954. Indonesia declared independence in 1945.
“It is not known when Indonesia will draw up the rest of the list. According to researchers, there are an estimated 300,000 objects in Dutch collections that could be colonial looted art,” NRC reported on Tuesday.
The Netherlands previously returned museum pieces to Indonesia, including a dagger belonging to the Javanese prince Diponegoro, who returned it in 2020.
The Ministry of Education and Science in the Netherlands, which is coordinating the repatriation process, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.