Naturalis and the Indonesian Repatriasi Commission will collaborate closely

July 12th, 2023
The three Homo erectus fossils, next to an artist impression of the species

The Indonesian Repatriasi Commission and Naturalis will work together to explore how the importance of the Homo erectus fossils from the Dubois collection can best be safeguarded for Indonesia, the Netherlands and the rest of the world. This is the result of constructive consultation between the research institute and the commission.


and conversation

At the invitation of Naturalis, the Indonesian Repatriasi Commission paid a visit to the institute in Leiden on Tuesday. The Dutch Colonial Collections Committee, which assesses restitution requests from Indonesia, also contributed to this meeting and took part in the discussion.

The discussion focused on the Indonesian government's request for the restitution of the Dubois collection. Indonesia requests the transfer of three Homo erectus fossils, which played a very important role in the acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution. The fossils were found on Java in 1891-1892 under the supervision of the Dutch researcher Eugène Dubois. This find brought Dubois world fame, and the fossils are regarded worldwide as absolute museum highlights.

The conversation was very constructive. The Repatriasi Commission has indicated that for Indonesia the request essentially concerns the return of the three type objects of Homo erectus, the skullcap, the femur and the molar. There is mutual understanding and recognition of the great importance of these three objects and the wish has been expressed to explore together how their value for Indonesia, the Netherlands and the rest of the world can best be safeguarded. Naturalis emphasized in the conversation that it fully understands the Indonesian government's request for the return of these three objects. It is evident that, in addition to scientific value, these objects also have enormous cultural and historical significance. Both the Repatriasi Commission and Naturalis have expressed the wish to intensify cooperation between Naturalis and Indonesia, both in the field of research and in the field of museum presentation.

Edwin van Huis, director of Naturalis: “A restitution request is often seen as a gain for one party and a loss for the other. We believe that through the conversations we are now having with the Indonesian Repatriasi Commission and with Indonesian institutions, we have initiated a development that we will later say has enriched our institutions and both countries.”

The collaboration between various Indonesian institutes and Naturalis has existed for years, but offers plenty of opportunities for more joint research in the broad field of biodiversity. In the conversation it was indicated that this cooperation is experienced as very positive, and that both countries would like to see the cooperation expanded further.

Important ideas were also exchanged in the field of knowledge transfer. The scientific knowledge that has been built up in both countries, including through the study of the entire Dubois Collection, is already being shared and is available for research. Together, we aim to expand this, among other things by making data and archives digitally accessible, so that a detailed study can be done into the origin and history of objects from the very extensive Dubois collection.

The restitution request is currently being processed by the Dutch Colonial Collections Committee. After completion of the formal process, in which an investigation is conducted into the origin and interests of the objects, the Dutch government will decide on possible restitution.

The conversation concluded with the promise that a delegation from Naturalis will visit Indonesia at the end of the year to speak with the most important scientific and cultural institutes and to jointly organize a conference on the importance of paleontological collections to tell a story about the origin of man, and about the scientific research that underpins it.

More information

More about the origins of the Naturalis collection.

Images of the Dubois Collection can be found in this press folder.