Abstract: Essentialist assumptions about human beings lay at the core of the historical push to collect human remains in colonial time, often with explicitly racist motivations. Albeit often motivated by decolonial and anti-racist intentions, today’s handling and restitutions of human remains operate on similarly essentialist and biologized notions of people and identities. This paper examines such manifestations of essentialism related to research on, and handling of, academic collections of human remains. Historically human remains, and skulls in particular, have served to produce various forms of scientific racialization and racism, confining people to fixed notions of identities and legitimizing unjust systems of exploitation and oppression. Contemporary handling of these human remains aims to account for the problematic and violent past, examining the provenance of particular human remains, often leading to their restitution. Restitutions of human remains are usually framed in the language of spirituality, ethnic or national ancestry, reconciliation, and heritage. Despite the different political and ideological motivations of contemporary practice, it too often relies on essentialist categorization and inaccurate or erroneous assumptions. This text exposes the problematic logic of identitarian essentialism, challenges its prevalence, and reflects of the (im)possibilities of a broader social justice of such identity politics.