A collection of more than 1,800 stone artifacts has been returned to Australia from the Israel Museum as part of ongoing efforts to honor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.
The transfer of the artifacts, including spears, stone tools, grindstones and other large and small objects, is the first time objects have been sent back from the Middle East as part of the Return of Cultural Heritage program in the Australia Institute of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
The collection was donated to the Israel Museum in the 1970s by Carl Shipman, a German Jew who fled Nazi Germany and settled in Australia. He was fascinated by Aboriginal culture and throughout his life collected many objects from different communities.
“We’re always thrilled when something comes home. This is particularly special,” said Craig Ritchie, chief executive of the AIATSIS, in an interview with ABC Radio Canberra.
The request to bring the artifacts home to Australia was met by the Israel Museum with “an open mind and ready response,” said Ritchie.
The cooperative effort between the museum and the Australia Institute of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Studies began in 2019 with a visit to the museum by delegates of the Aboriginal community, which was followed by joint research, said Ido Bruno, director of the Israel Museum.
The collaboration led to a decision to return the collection, a decision that was embraced by Shipman’s descendants as well, said Bruno.
The repatriation of the stone artifacts was an important step in recognizing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples want to see the return of everyday items used by their ancestors, said Michael Ramalli, the Australia Institute’s acting CEO.
“It’s not just ceremonial items or the most spiritually significant objects that matter, but all material is of significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” said Ramalli.
The Australian Institute is working with several Indigenous communities to map out how to proceed with the returned materials. For now, the collection will be housed at the institute and separated into several sub-collections.