NEW YORK (PIX11) – The American Museum of Natural History will remove human remains from some of its exhibits, according to a letter from the museum’s president.
The museum currently houses skeletal remains from over 12,000 humans, according to the letter. Museum president Sean Decatur, who joined the museum back in April, said that the collection of human remains “were made possible by extreme imbalances of power.”
“Moreover, many researchers in the 19th and 20th centuries then used such collections to advance deeply flawed scientific agendas rooted in white supremacy – namely the identification of physical differences that could reinforce models of racial hierarchy,” Decatur wrote in the letter.
Human remains will be removed from 12 display cases in the museum. Furthermore, the museum has expanded its efforts in returning human remains and cultural items to descendant communities, Decatur said.
The museum has returned around 1,000 human remains to descendant communities in the U.S. under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, according to the letter.
Decatur said 26% of the museum’s human remains collection is made up of Native Americans.
“We must acknowledge that, with the small exception of those who bequeathed their bodies to medical schools for continued study, no individual consented to have their remains included in a museum collection,” Decatur wrote in the letter.
The museum also addressed five bodies of enslaved African Americans who were removed from a burial ground in Inwood during construction between 1903 and 1904.
“Removing these remains from their rightful burial place ensured that the denial of basic human dignity would continue even in death,” Decatur wrote.
The American Museum of Natural History no longer collects human remains for its collections, a statement from the museum said.
“We commit to the removal of human remains from public display, while continuing to display casts where appropriate to further the Museum’s education mission,” the statement said.
Erin Pflaumer is a digital content producer from Long Island who has covered both local and national news since 2018. She joined PIX11 in 2023. See more of her work here.