The British and the Aborigines first crossed paths in 1770, when famed English explorer James Cook landed in what is now Sydney. It was a violent meeting, and Cook departed with some of the Gweagal's spears—and the UK's Cambridge University says it won't give up the four it owns. The request for their return came by way of an Australian man who claims to have personal ties to the artifacts. Reuters reports Rodney Kelly issued a formal repatriation request for the spears displayed at Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in November. He claims he is a direct descendant of Cooman, the Gweagal warrior Kelly alleges was injured by Cook's party during that bloody first encounter, in which two Gweagal men tried to halt the newcomers from landing.
"We lost so much that day. Culture, language families, land, and knowledge," says Kelly in an interview with Cambridge News. "My family [was] the first to be in contact and when you come to my tribe you really see what has happened and what has been lost since the British invasion of 1770." A rep for the museum says that removing parts of the Cook collection will harm and deprive it "of its integrity," and that Kelly's proposal did not say how the artifacts would be properly housed or conserved. The museum also claims Kelly's ties to the artifacts are tenuous but says it would listen to requests from "accredited representatives of the Gweagal people." Kelly says he will continue to fight; the Australian Senate and state parliament of New South Wales are in favor of repatriation. (Read more Aboriginal stories.)