Sami jaw bones found in display case

Jaw bones taken from the skulls of Sami people have been discovered in a display case at a dental college in Umeå in northern Sweden. The human remains are part of an exhibit that also includes the jaws of bears, elk and rodents.

Retired dentist Lennart Hänström was struck by a memory from his youth while reading an article about various institutions returning human remains to the indigenous people of Lappland.

As a young student in Umeå he was shown the jaw bones by a professor at the dental college in 1965. They were said to originate from nine Sami people form the nearby Tärna region.

Hänström has now called for the body parts to be reinterred.

“I want the remains to be put to rest. They are of no scientific value and are not used as part of the curriculum,” he told newspaper Västerbottens-Kuriren.

This view is shared by retired archaeologist Astrid Linder, who recalls how the jaw bones ended up at the dental college in the first place.

In 1961 she was involved in the excavation of the remains of around ten individuals from Vila Chapel in Vilasund. The bodies were believed to date back to the 1720s.

The jaw bones were subsequently sent to Umeå for dental analysis. Astrid Linder had always assumed that the remains were then sent on to Tärnaby cemetery for reinterment, as was originally planned.

“Could these be the same parts? Were they never buried? But that’s terrible!” she told Västerbottens-Kuriren.

Kaisa Huuva, cultural administrator for the Sami parliament, Sametinget, is impressed by the initiative taken by the retired dentist.

“It’s great that people react. This question concerns everybody, not just the Sami people. What is now emerging is a relic from a darker part of our history,” she told the newspaper.