Blood, Bones, and the Ghosts of the Ancestors
One night in 2009, an Aboriginal poet was haunted by a dead anatomist who cut through her body with a scalpel. This story is related not as a freak event but as a reflection of the general condition of scientific research in postcolonial times. Theories of haunting have proposed that ghosts emerge when a process of burial is unfinished. Through interwoven stories of the collection, storage, and use of the bones and blood of Indigenous Australians, I explore how twentieth-century scientific collection and its vital legacies are variously haunted. My analysis spans the collection of bones from what was considered a dying race, the role of human biology in the founding of Indigenous studies in the 1960s, Indigenous resistance to genetic research in the 1990s, the emergence of blood sample repatriation since 2000, and current Indigenous-led efforts to use old blood samples for their own ends.