Martin Thomas Film to Screen in Washington

Etched in Bone goes to Washington

Etched in Bone, the acclaimed documentary film by Martin Thomas and Béatrice Bijon, will premiere in the United States on 14 March 2020. The film examines the theft in 1948 of Indigenous human remains from northern Australia by the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land and their repatriation more than sixty years later.

The bones were removed from traditional burial sites by Frank M. Setzler, the Head of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. He shipped them to Washington DC and accessioned them into the physical anthropology collection of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), one of the Smithsonian’s many museums. It took years of lobbying by the Australian Government to convince the Museum to return the bones to their traditional owners in 2009-10.

Much of the film is set in the Arnhem Land community of Gunbalanya where the senior elder Jacob Nayinggul uses ritual and ceremony to restore the spirits of the stolen ancestors to the land of their birth.

Etched in Bone is part of the official selection for the annual DC Environmental Film Festival in Washington (DCEFF) where it will screen in the auditorium of the National Museum of Natural History, the building where the bones were stored in the US capital.

This will be followed by a panel discussion involving the filmmakers and Smithsonian anthropologists.

The panel will discuss the making of the film and address a significant shift in policy at the NMNH, which has resulted in a greater willingness to repatriate human remains to Indigenous communities from outside the US.

The Smithsonian still has significant holdings of Aboriginal Australian human remains in its collection. As part of its new repatriation policy, it will be returning them to Australia in late March 2020.

Etched in Bone will screen at 4 pm on 14 March 2020 in the National Museum of Natural History, 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560. Free entry. Booking essential. 


Martin Thomas:

Béatrice Bijon: