A Beothuk skeleton (not) in a glass case
Rumours of bones and the remembrance of an exterminated people in Newfoundland - the emotive immateriality of human remains
in Human remains in society

This chapter tells the story of the Beothuk people in Newfoundland, hunter-gatherers indigenous to this northern island. The Europeans, mostly English and Irish, came in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the coming of the settlers the Beothuk dwindled and finally, in 1829 they were declared extinct. The exact cause of this extinction is still debated, but there is no doubt that the ancestors of many of those still living in Newfoundland were the agents of extermination of a people, whether by disease or genocidal violence.

Since their extermination Beothuk bones emerged from the earth and were sometimes taken away and stored and displayed in museums in Newfoundland, Edinburgh and elsewhere. These bones still exist, now withdrawn from display, but intermittently receiving the attention of oesteoarchaeologists and physical anthropologists, as well as a handful of activists petitioning for their return. This chapter addresses the capacity of bones to speak, to give testimony and, in giving testimony, to make “old acts indelible”. How do these bones trouble and haunt contemporary articulations of settler identity and our ethical engagement with the absent presence of those who have been violently dispossessed?

Human remains in society

Curation and exhibition in the aftermath of genocide and mass-violence


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