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Dark Science (ATOM Study Guide)

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During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thousands of complete and partial skeletons of Indigenous Australians (as well as thousands of artefacts and sometimes sacred objects) were sent overseas and to Australian museums.

Dark Science (Johan Gabrielsson, Warwick Thornton and David Milroy, 2007) is the story of one of the expeditions which gathered such objects for scientific study, and sent them to Sweden.

In 1910, a Swedish scientific expedition, led by Eric Mjöberg, arrived in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

One of his aims was to determine if Australian Aboriginal people were the 'missing link' that Darwinism suggested between modern humans and apes.

During his two years there, and in a later expedition, he tried bribery, intimidation and eventually theft to acquire the Aboriginal remains that were crucial to the prosecution of his thesis.

Mjöberg's expedition, and his scientific research, brought him neither fame nor riches. Instead, his ideas went unproven; his personal situation swiftly declined, largely due to his uncompromising and unpleasant nature, and his final days were tortured by dreams that were fuelled by his medically acquired morphine addiction and his experiences in Australia.

He died alone in his Stockholm apartment surrounded by his plundered artefacts from the Kimberley region of Australia. After his death, the human skeletons remained unstudied and hidden in a Swedish museum.

Now the remains have been returned.

Dark Science travels in Mjöberg's footsteps to visit the communities he robbed, and gives a contemporary Indigenous perspective to the return of the remains and artefacts.

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