The restitution debate and return of human remains: implications for bioarchaeological research and cultural ethics in Africa

  • Pearl S.N.O. Lamptey University of Ghana
  • Wazi Apoh University of Ghana
Keywords: Repatriation, bioarchaeology, restitution, human remains, bio-history, archaeological record


The calls for repatriation and restitution of African objects and human remains in unlawful Euroamerican custody are gaining global momentum. This paper examines how bioarchaeological analyses are done on legitimately excavated or acquired human remains. Such studies are assessed in tandem with the negative eugenicist practices associated with the looted African human remains that were studied in Europe and America during the periods of slavery and colonization in Africa. It further examines the issues surrounding the repatriation of human remains and discusses the implications of this practice on the ethics and cultural rights of societies in Africa. Excavated human skeletal remains from Begho are examined within their cultural
context as a Ghanaian case study. By exploring these issues, we are of the view that the complexities in the nature of acquisition and return of human remains requires a holistic comprehension from multiple points of view rather than from a single subjective perspective. Such multiple approaches must include the need for adequate provenance and bioarchaeological research to bear on the contexts and practices associated with the anthropology of death in the societies of origin.

Author Biographies

Pearl S.N.O. Lamptey, University of Ghana

Ms. Pearl S.N.O. Lamptey ( is a Graduate Student/Research Assistant at the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of Ghana. Ms. Lamptey has handled the tutorial sessions of four undergraduate courses and participated in a number of Archaeological Field Projects organized by the Department from 2016 to date. Her research focuses on the application of bioarchaeology in understanding Ghana’s past. She is a recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon- Enhancing Doctoral Training (ENDoTH-UG) fellowship in the Humanities, University of Ghana.

Wazi Apoh, University of Ghana

Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies


Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 2343-6530