Indonesia has requested that the Netherlands, the country’s former colonial master, return eight collections of historical artifacts from its museums, including the remains of “Java Man,” the first known fossils of the Homo erectus species, from whom humans are believed to have originated.
The “looted” artifacts include statues from Java’s ancient Hindu kingdom of Singhasari, personal belongings belonging to an Indonesian national hero, and the remains of Java Man, which were discovered in Java in the 19th century by Dutch paleoanthropologist Eugène Dubois.
Bonnie Triyana, a historian and member of the Indonesian team working on the repatriation, told Reuters on Friday that the primary objective is to return the objects and develop knowledge.
Bonnie stated that the team’s primary focus was on state-owned collections in national museums, such as the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, which includes the femur and skull of the Java Man. Bonnie stated that the request had been made in July.
He stated, “These artifacts represent evidence of a much larger catastrophe.”
As a Dutch colony from 1800 to 1949, Indonesia was known as the Dutch East Indies and was a significant source of riches for the Dutch due to the exploitation of natural resources and the commerce in spices, precious metals, and minerals.
This week, Dutch news media have provided extensive coverage on Indonesia’s appeal.
The Dutch daily newspaper Trouw stated on Tuesday that the list of artifacts requested by Indonesia was wide and included the whole Dubois collection kept in Naturalis. This collection consists of approximately 40,000 fossils unearthed in Indonesia between 1880 and 1900.
“The bones of the so-called Java Man, the absolute masterpiece of the Dubois collection, are even clearly referenced,” Trouw stated.
A spokeswoman for Naturalis informed the newspaper that such a request from Indonesia was anticipated and that the museum will cooperate, albeit the issue of artifact security must be handled.
Bonnie, a member of the Indonesia repatriation team, was quoted by the NRC as saying that the list of eight collections and artifacts was only the beginning, and that the Dubois collection and Java Man had been the subject of negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands since 1954. In 1945, Indonesia declared its independence.
The Netherlands previously returned museum objects to Indonesia, including a knife belonging to Javanese prince Diponegoro in 2020.
The Dutch ministry of education and science, which administers the repatriation procedure, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.