The trade in morbid exotic items has filled several museums around the world who were competing to fill up with body parts, mummies, bones, skins and skulls. The winners of the competitions built the biggest, most impressive and best respected museums in the world.
The problem is that the wind has changed. Many of these artifacts are not acceptable in museums any more (even though some are still considered OK). Some of the remains are returned but many large museums with large collections are hesitant since returning their large collections would be a significant loss to them.
A recent argument in France is a good illustration of the problem. It all began when the Natural History Museum of Rouen tried to give back a toi moko to New Zealand (toi moko were originally the heads of Maori warriors killed in battle). When the French Culture Ministry heard this they stopped the return.
These situations are complex but it is fascinating to see the evolution of morals. The question worth asking is which of our actions today will be seen as totally immoral tomorrow?
Read more about the French toi moko at the New Zealand Herald & USA Today. Liverpool returns toi moko (2006)& Scottish return of toi moko (2005)