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Return of cultural heritage material from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

A large collection of stone artefacts has been returned to Australia from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, as part of the AIATSIS-led Return of Cultural Heritage (RoCH) program. The returned artefacts include stone tools, grindstones, and other material. The collection was donated to the Museum in the 1970s by Mr Carl Shipman.

AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said: ‘It is a great pleasure to have this material back in Australia, where it can connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and indeed all Australians with over 60,000 years of history and culture. AIATSIS would like to thank the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and the Shipman family for agreeing to return the collection to Indigenous communities.’

The collection comprises over 1800 items and is the first return from the Middle East as part of the RoCH program. ‘The return of this collection of stone artefacts is an important step to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples want to see the return of items used by their ancestors every day. 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,’ Mr Ritchie said.

A grindstone returned from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem – red and yellow ochre are still visible around the depression. Grindstones were among the largest stone implements used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They were used to crush, grind or pound different materials.

Professor Ido Bruno, Director of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem said: ‘We are thrilled to be honouring Aboriginal heritage and hope, via this act, to contribute to their continued research and study. The exciting cooperation between IMJ and AIATSIS originated in a moving visit to the Israel Museum by a delegation of representatives of the Aboriginal community in 2019, an encounter which led to joint research. This collaborative effort ultimately led to the decision to return the collection, which was undertaken unanimously by the Museum's Collections Committee, as well as the descendants of Carl Shipman who wholeheartedly embraced this initiative. We sincerely hope that the strong collegial bond that was formed during this endeavour will lead to future cross-cultural initiatives and collaborations.’

AIATSIS has commenced engagement with a number of relevant Indigenous communities about how they wish to proceed with the return of their material to Country.  The collection will be temporarily housed at AIATSIS while further research is undertaken and the material is separated into discreet sub-collections.

The AIATSIS-led Return of Cultural Heritage initiative is funded by the National Indigenous Australians Agency.

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Last updated: 16 August 2022