An activist group including several NGOs and researchers at Swedish and Finnish universities has called on the Karolinska Institute, Sweden's largest medical institution, to return the skulls excavated in Finland over a century ago to give the remains a proper burial, Swedish Radio reported.
A letter of formal notice signed by 34 people and organisations was handed over to Karolinska Institutet on December 19.
"We want the Finnish remains to be returned to the hometowns, and that they are buried", Andreas Ali Jonasson of the Committee for the Return of Finnish Remnants told Swedish Radio.
The skulls are part of the legacy of Swedish race researchers Anders and Gustaf Retzius. More than half of them were dug up from graves. In the 19th century, Finnish skulls were of major interest for scholars, as the contemporary race theory considered them to be non-Europeans.
According to the activist group, this research had far-reaching consequences on the image of Finns in Sweden and the way they were perceived.
"Many of the injustices that have happened to Finns over the course of history can be traced to this race research", Andreas Ali Jonasson told Swedish Radio.
Since the race research did a lot of damage to an entire people's group, it is therefore in the interest of all Sweden Finns to return these skulls back to Finland, the group concluded.
The Karolinska Institute welcomed the activists' initiative, but cited formal barriers for the return of the skulls, administrator and medical historian Maria Josephson explained.
"We are pleased that this issue has been raised, as there is no practice on how to handle the return requirements from a group of individuals", Josephson said. According to her, a formal request from Finnish authorities or government representatives will be needed to proceed.
Anders Retzius was a Swedish professor of anatomy. The Anders Retzius Medal, previously awarded by the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography to world-leading scholars in human geography and anthropology, was discontinued in 2015, considering his contributions to phrenology, a pseudoscience which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits.
His son, Gustaf Retzius, was a physician, anatomist and 23-time Nobel Prize nominee, who devoted much of his life to investigating the histology of the senses and nervous system. He is also seen as one of the central figures of race biology, sometimes referred to as "scientific racism".