Professor Judith Sealy, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town, reflects on her role in the Sutherland reburial and restitution process. Her team was responsible for the chemical analyses process, specifically the stable isotope analyses. By analysing the bones, teeth, soil and other archaeological materials her team was able to understand the diets that people followed, and the environments they lived in.
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After an archiving audit of the UCT Human Skeletal Collection in 2017, the university discovered that it had 11 skeletons in its collection that were unethically obtained by the institution in the 1920s. The university has acknowledged this past injustice, which forms part of its history. Nine of these individuals were brought to the university in the 1920s from Sutherland in the Northern Cape. UCT is working with the community of Sutherland to return the skeletal remains of these nine individuals to their descendants. An interdisciplinary team of academics from UCT and two international partner institutions have conducted unprecedented scientific studies. This process has enabled the university to provide redress and social justice through science.