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Etched in Bone

Jacob Nayinggul, an Aboriginal elder from Arnhem Land in northern Australia, knows that bones of his ancestors were stolen by scientists in 1948. For 60 years they were held by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as part of a large collection of human anatomy. When the Smithsonian finally agrees to repatriate the bones, Nayinggul creates a new form of ceremony. Wrapped in paperbark, the stolen bones—and with them the ancestors’ spirits—are welcomed home and put to sleep in the land where they were born.