Session: #268

Theme & Session Format

1. Archaeologists and Archaeology Here and Now
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Human Remains: Between Objects of Science and Lived Lives. Toward a New Ethics for Human Remains in Archaeology
Research on human remains is a part of a long scientific tradition. Today museums are the custodians of extensive collections of both skeletal remains and soft tissues. In the Humanities and Social Sciences (archaeology, biological anthropology, history of medicine) research on human remains provide valuable information on the lived experience of people in the past. At the same time, reservations are made against research on the remains of people who were never able to consent. Laws and guidelines have been developed to regulate the issue, but these have for the most part been developed to handle the remains from indigenous peoples/minorities, and do not include provisions for all remains. Similarly, medical laws and regulations do not consider older remains. Researchers who work on these collections therefore find themselves in a relatively unregulated area, which risks undermining the legitimacy of the research.
With the rise of the Third Science Revolution in archaeology, museums are feeling the increased pressure to make biological specimens available for research which sometimes includes destructive analysis. At the same time, public and cultural debate about social inequality and racism has led to increased scrutiny of museums, archaeology and biological anthropology, in their handling of these remains.
This session seeks to go beyond presentations of best practices and recommendations and start to theorize the ethics of the research on human remains and their role in museums and archaeological research in a European context. Can we formulate a new ethics for the handling of human remains in archaeology that is informed by critical social theory? Can new ethical practices contribute to more sustainable collections, research and communities? We are looking for papers from across the EAA community and look forward to an intellectual discussion enriched by diverse perspectives.
Ethics, Human Remains, Collections, Museums
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Main organiser:
Liv Nilsson Stutz (Sweden) 1
Hayley Mickleburgh (Netherlands) 1,2
Sarah Tarlow (United Kingdom) 3
1. Linnaeus University
2. Forensic Anthropology Center Texas State University
3. University of Leicester