Two sacred Maori skulls taken from Northland in 1890 will be returned to New Zealand.

The Karolinska Institutet Medical University in Stockholm, Sweden - a world leader in medical research - collected indigenous remains from all parts of the world for research purposes in the past.

Part of the collection included two Maori skulls and a toi moko (tattooed preserved Maori head).

Now those remains will be transferred into the care of the repatriation team at Te Papa Museum of New Zealand in Wellington.


There is little information associated with the toi moko but the two skulls were taken in 1890 by a Swedish natural historian Conrad Fristedt who spent time in the Bay of Islands and recorded his journey into Whangaroa to access Maori remains from wahi tapu, isolated sacred repositories.

On this journey he collected three skulls which he kept secret from Maori living in the region.

Two went to Karolinska Institutet, and the other went to the Anatomy Department in the University of Oslo, Norway. The skull housed in Oslo was repatriated in 2011.

Te Herekiekie Herewini, repatriation manager to Te Papa, said he had been in contact with the related iwi about the skulls.

Dr Eva Ahren, director of the Unit for Medical History and Heritage, was pleased the remains would be returning to their homeland.

"Karolinska Institutet takes very seriously our moral obligation to help repatriate remains of indigenous peoples from our historical collections. We greatly appreciate this opportunity to transfer the remains into the care of Te Papa's repatriation team."

The powhiri will be at Te Papa on May 29.