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Human remains

Handling of human remains

Burials are highly significant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and it is important not to interfere with human remains.

All burials in Queensland are regulated under the Criminal Code Act 1899Coroners Act 2003Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003, and local government by-laws.

The legislative definition of 'human remains’ includes burial objects and associated material – such as bark coffins.

Ownership of human remains

Under Part 2 of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (the Cultural Heritage Acts)Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with traditional or familial links to human remains become the owners of those remains. This applies regardless of who owned the remains previously.

If the remains are in the custody of the State, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people with traditional or familial links to the remains may request their return or ask the State to remain custodians until such time as they wish them returned.

Under the Cultural Heritage Acts, it is an offence for anyone, other than Traditional Owners, to possess Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human remains, regardless of when they came into their possession.

Reporting Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander human remains

If you possesses or have knowledge of the existence of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander human remains, your are required to report them to the Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships.

Accidental discovery of human remains

Any human remains that are found must not be disturbed. All human remains must be reported to the Queensland Police in the first instance.

Police will undertake appropriate scientific or other procedures to assist the Coroner in making an appropriate determination about the remains.

If the remains are determined to be ancestral remains without the need for removal, the relevant Traditional Owners of the remains will be responsible for their management.

In cases where remains are removed by Police and subsequently determined by the Coroner to be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, the remains will be released to the Minister responsible for administering the Cultural Heritage Acts.

Read the Guidelines for the discovery, handling and management of human remains for more information.

Queensland Museum Repatriation Fund

The return of human remains (repatriation) is about helping to return Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander human remains back to Country.

The Queensland Museum Repatriation Fund provides funding to help communities repatriate ancestral remains, burial goods and secret and/or sacred objects to their community of origin.

Contact the museum for information about: