Museum. “It’s the ethical thing to do, and it’s consistent with the United Nation’s treaty on the rights of indigenous people.”
The mummified remains were donated to the university in 1890 by Fenton McCreery, whose father, William, was then United States consul to Chile. The body was displayed at the museum with accompanying relics until the early 1970s, said William Lovis, curator emeritus of anthropology, who led the efforts to return the mummy.
“She was a very popular exhibit at the time,” he said. The display was even featured on an MSU Museum post card. But, with increasing sensitivities to the display of human remains, the exhibit was dismantled, and the mummy spent the next 40 years being shuffled between secure storage areas at MSU.
No one has done any research on the remains for decades, Lovis said, and his efforts to drum up interest in doing research came to naught.
“About three years ago, I came to the conclusion that, if nobody was going to be doing any work with either the artifacts or the humans remains and if we were not going to display the human remains, it would be better served to return them to Bolivia,” he said.
The girl was buried in a stone tomb known as a “chullpa” accompanied by leather sandals, a sling, a gourd full of small pebbles and a bag of corn, fruit and beans. Corn found in one of her bags was radiocarbon dated to roughly 1470. MSU hasn’t done any destructive analysis of the remains themselves.
Academics in Bolivia plan to study the mummy further, especially with regard to the physical conditions of the body and the objects she was buried with, said David Trigo, head of the National Museum of Archaeology of Bolivia.
“I don’t often encounter an artifact with this much richness,” Trigo said, speaking in Spanish.
But he also said that, “With a patrimonial object like this, it’s important that it’s accessible to the public in some way,” and the archaeology museum is planning a public exhibition of the remains in 2019.
The remains will be be taken from East Lansing to the Bolivian embassy in Washington, D.C., en route to the National Museum of Archaeology in La Paz, Bolivia.
“Because it’s such a precious object, we can’t just put it in a car or fly it,” Auslander said. “We have to go with a special company, the kind of people you use to transport the ‘Mona Lisa’ to get it there safely.”
The university is expected to pay the cost of transporting the remains to the Bolivian embassy in Washington, D.C.
“The purpose of a museum isn’t to just grab and hold,” Auslander said. “We want to be more ethical, and, in partnership with friends around the world, we want ancestors to go home where they’re supposed to be.”
Beyond the museum’s designation as MSU Museum Accession 943, the remains aren’t named. That may change once they are returned to the government of Bolivia, Auslander said.
Contact RJ Wolcott at (517) 377-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wolcottr. Contact Sarah Lehr at (517) 377-1056 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr.