Repatriation and restitution inquires towards the SES (State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony) are taken care of by the department "Wissenschaftliche Sammlungserschließung und -dokumentation" in Leipzig, Germany. This department handles contact with communities, provenance research, planning for repatriation, logistics, and joint cultural protocol. We would like to draw your attention to the fact, that objects made from organic material and ancestors were frequently treated with biocides during their handling at the museum. This treatment served to aid preservation and to prevent pest infestation. Furthermore, there is the possible hazard of ancestors carrying pathogens that might still be active. Hence, the objects and ancestors might only be handled and reviewed by wearing protective equipment (e.g. nitrile gloves and a mask).

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© Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Miriam Hamburger
Major Sumner (Ngarrindjeri) and Malcom Siely (Gurnaikurnai) in the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig’s Australia Depot, reviewing objects relevant to Gurnaikurnai and Ngarrindjeri cultural heritage.

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Each restitution and repatriation inquiry process is different, but many follow the same basic structure:

Steps of an inquiry

If you have significant grounds to request a collection review, please send to the director or relevant representative: your name and name of your organisation or community, name of contact person(s), address, date of inquiry, request for inventory listing and digital images. Inquiries may refer to relevant objects or, if known, remains, or can be a generalised inquiry into the collection. 

In response, the SES department "Wissenschaftliche Sammlungserschließung und -dokumentation" will contact you with a letter of acknowledgement and begin researching your inquiry. An inventory list of collection items or ancestors will thereafter be provided.

Once each party has reviewed the inventory, a meeting will be scheduled to discuss the items or ancestors in the listings.

After discussions and agreements, delegations and museum staff will come to a consensus concerning the objects or ancestors in question. Should the inquiry lead to an official claim to restitution or repatriation, an individual plan will be made between parties to outline the course of action. This includes but is not limited to historical provenance research, forensic research, a coroner’s report, and other cultural or logistic protocol. Should the inquiry party have questions, comments, or concerns that are logistical, or otherwise, the SES is willing to commit to find the best possible answer. The SES will make suggestions to research and protocol processes, but will not take any action without prior discussion with the delegation.

The involved parties will draft a formal working agreement.

All repatriation and restitution claims must be approved by the Minister for Culture of Saxony.

Researching and reporting may be partially outsourced to a vast network of German historical and forensic researchers. The SES is also open to working internationally with researchers, curators, and other professionals to create a comprehensive report documenting the provenance research concerning the object or remains.

Logistics concerning funding, transportation, and object or remains packaging will be agreed upon.

All research steps will be confirmed with the delegation communities via their contact person(s).

Deaccessioning and repatriation takes place in the museums in Saxony as well as in the appropriate embassy that may represent the delegation.

Cultural protocol, ceremonies, funerary arrangements, or other events will be planned, upon the delegation wishes, to ensure an appropriate and respectful final stage in the journey home.

Get in touch

Dr. Birgit Scheps-Bretschneider
Head of Provenance Research and Restitution
Curator Australia/Pacific
Tel. +49 341/97 31-915

Ute Uhlemann
Public Relations
Tel. +49 341/97 31-916

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