The remains of more than 750 Indigenous ancestors are still held by Museums Victoria, and many more lie in institutions across the country and the world.
The repatriation of these remains is an important issue for many Indigenous Australians, and the historical theft of their ancestors for study continues to cause pain and distress.
But there is a challenge in returning these unknown individuals to country: determining where they belong.
Overcoming that hurdle lies at the heart of a proposed project being led by Dja Dja Wurrung man Rodney Carter with a team of scientists and researchers, called Bring The Ancestors Home.
Through the use of isotopic, genetic and linguistic data, the team hopes to identify where such individuals came from, so they can finally be laid to rest on country.
The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council and eight registered Aboriginal parties in Victoria, including the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, have formed a partnership with several researchers to develop the project.
It is a venture Mr Carter - chief executive officer of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and chair of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council - has been advancing in a conceptual way for nearly a decade, but it has gathered real steam in the past two to three years.
A key part of the project involves building an isotopic map of Victoria.
As part of Bring The Ancestors Home, members of the project team will analyse isotopes - or geochemical signatures - from samples of soil, water, and plant material, and create a map of the different isotopic signatures across Victoria, against which information from the remains can be referenced.
"We can match those environmental signatures - the background landscape environmental signatures - with the signatures in the remains of the unprovenanced people," project co-lead, Associate Professor Michael Westaway from the University of Queensland, said.
"Basically, the story of the connection to country is written in the bones and teeth of individuals.
"So by using this isotopic analysis, we can narrow down the localities these people have come from."
To put it another way, Dr Westaway explained, "you are what you eat": when a person lived in a certain landscape and drank the water and ate the plants and animals there, they ingested the isotopic signature of that place.
The biological anthropologist and archaeologist has previously used this approach to repatriate the remains of an ancestor to the Port Fairy area, and has worked on a similar project in Cape York.
The isotopic data will be used in conjunction with genetic information to narrow down the ancestors' country.
Professor Lyn Griffiths, the director of the Genomics Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, said the genetic component of the project would involve collecting DNA samples from living Aboriginal people in Victoria, with the assistance of the registered Aboriginal parties.
This data will be compared against the genetic information from the remains and will provide clues about who these people were.
"So it's an additional source, to provide some information about where those remains may have come from," Professor Griffiths said.
Linguistic data will provide another piece of the puzzle.
The University of Western Australia's Dr Luisa Miceli said the information about language patterns in Victoria provided evidence of the connections and relationships between different people across the state.
"What we're particularly interested in for this project, is looking for evidence of patterns that suggest bilingualism across different languages, because if you can uncover evidence of bilingualism, that usually tells you that there was in-person contact between different groups... Obviously if you have in-person contact, you can start to understand what kind of networks and connections there were probably in the past," Dr Miceli said.
She said information about language patterns could confirm what the genetic and isotopic data suggested, or explain discrepancies between the two.
For example, it could establish a connection between two different groups of people and therefore the possibility an individual came from one group but lived elsewhere.
Piecing together the different evidence provided by the isotopic, genetic and linguistics data would illustrate the most likely story of the history of a particular place, Dr Miceli said, and thereby best inform the repatriation of remains.
Dja Dja Wurrung man Harley Dunolly-Lee will also work on the linguistics aspect of the project.
Other experts involved in the project include people who have worked in identification on victims of the Bali bombings and the 2004 tsunami, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.
Mr Carter said "really good people" were part of the team. "They want people returned to country, they want this addressed," he said.
The project also aims to involve the community, especially through an educational program for young people.
Together with Aboriginal heritage officers, school students will collect the plant, water and soil samples that will form the basis of the isotopic map.
Mr Carter said this component of the project would help young Aboriginal people understand they too could be scientists, and expose them to the social good such scientific projects could deliver.
Once the maps are in place, the project will then work to use this information to repatriate 50 sets of remains to their descendant Aboriginal communities.
Dr Westaway said he would love to see this project rolled out around the country.
There was a proposal to build a national keeping place for unprovenanced remains, he said, but addressing the problem of identifying these ancestors' countries would deliver a much better result.
Mr Carter said the sort of work the team would undertake had the potential for different applications in the future, such as identifying the migration patterns of the diprotodon - a huge, wombat-looking animal that once roamed Australia.
The team has applied for an Australian Research Council grant to fund the project, and is awaiting a decision. Should that be granted, the project will begin mid-next year.
The project description describes the importance of such an initiative to Aboriginal people, saying that addressing the past wrongs perpetrated with the theft of remains could be a step towards strengthening culture.
"I think this is a really important project...a lot of people are trying to figure out the best way to do this, and this is a research project, but it's a collaboration," Professor Griffiths said
"We're trying to figure out the best forms of information, how we can work across different types of information... in this collaboration we're pulling together different fields of expertise for a specific and relevant question."