Words: Nadia Krige Source: www.news.uct.ac.za
Images: Je’nine May, Face Lab / Liverpool John Moores University, Supported by National Geographic Society
The moment arrived in late 2018 when Dr Victoria Gibbon, senior lecturer in biological anthropology and the curator of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) skeletal collection, approached Smith about the possibility of creating facial reconstructions for eight individuals whose remains had been unethically obtained by the university between 1925 and 1931.
Smith was to become part of a multidisciplinary team of academics who would be contributing to what has come to be known as the Sutherland project, a historically significant process of restitution and reburial initiated by UCT.
Gibbon had come upon the eight skeletons – along with three others – while conducting an archival audit of the Faculty of Health Sciencesʼ skeletal collection in 2017.
Since nine of the 11 skeletons were San and Khoe people who had come from Sutherland in the Northern Cape, where they had worked as farm labourers, the university decided to start the restitution process there.
Gibbon visited the Sutherland community to receive input from the Sutherland Abraham and Stuurman families, who had been identified as descendants of at least two of the individuals in question.
The families not only agreed to further research being conducted into the
lives and deaths of their ancestors, they also made a specific request for facial reconstructions of the deceased.