By Associated Press Writer
updated 9/30/2004 9:05:39 AM ET 2004-09-30T13:05:39

The skeletal remains of 15 Aborigines are being returned home for reburial, nearly 90 years after a Swedish zoologist smuggled them out of Australia for display in a Stockholm museum.

The Museum of Ethnography was to hand over the 15 skulls and numerous other bones was to a seven-member Aboriginal delegation on Thursday, museum spokesman Peter Skogh told the AP. They will later be reinterred in their original burial ground in western Australia.

The Swedish government gave its blessing to the handover last week.

The remains were smuggled out of Australia by Swedish zoologist Erik Mjoeberg during two expeditions between 1910 and 1916.

Skogh said Mjoeberg's diaries revealed that he dug up the remains from old graves and then got them out of Australia by telling customs officials they were the bones of kangaroos.

"He saw the Aborigines as some kind of remains from an earlier stage of human development," Skogh said. "It was a very Darwinian viewpoint."

Last year, Swedish museum officials traveled to Australia and offered to return the remains to the government's indigenous commission.

"Not many countries have done that before," Skogh said. "They've always had to come (to other countries) and ask to have things returned before. So we got a pretty good reception."

In June, the University of Michigan organized the return of four sets of remains from Ann Arbor, Mich., back to Australia. The bones were believed to be the remains of four Aborigines, one of whom lived 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Last year, a British museum returned four Aboriginal skulls.

Aborigine groups estimate more than 8,000 sets of remains are still held in Europe. Hundreds of remains have already been brought back to Australia, but some museums and medical colleges have refused to release their specimens.

A minority of about 400,000, Australia's Aborigines believe they must be buried in ancestral lands before their spirits can continue the journey into the afterlife.

For almost a year, researchers have tried to determine exactly where the remains in the Swedish museum were taken from.

Museum officials said Swedish explorers found the remains in Queensland and Western Australia's Kimberly regions. They were brought back to Sweden for studies on the Aborigine race and put on anthropological displays.

"Now we're on the right track," Skogh said, adding that they were taken from the Kimberly region in western Australia. It's up to the Aborigines there to decide what to do with them now, he said.

"They'll probably bury them again in the places where they were taken," he said.

Australia's ambassador to Sweden, Richard Rowe, could not be reached for comment early Thursday.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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