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Curating Human Remains

Curating Human Remains: Caring for the Dead in the United Kingdom

Edited by Myra Giesen
Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Curating Human Remains
    Book Description:

    How to care for, store, display and interpret human remains, and issues of their ownership, are contentious questions, ones that need to be answered with care and due consideration. This book offers a systematic overview of the responses made by museums and other repositories in the UK, providing a baseline for understanding the scope and nature of human remains collections and the practices related to their care. The introduction sets UK practices within an international context, while subsequent chapters, all written by leading experts, cover a wide range of topics through key case studies: legislation and ethical obligations; issues of both long-term and short-term care; differing perspectives associated with human remains collections in different parts of the UK; a comparison of attitudes and approaches in large institutions and small museums; the creative use of redundant churches; and challenges facing research/teaching laboratories and collections resulting from recent archaeological excavations. Myra Giesen is Lecturer at the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University. Contributors: Myra Giesen, Liz White, Hedley Swain, Charlotte Woodhead, Kirsty McCarrison, Victoria Park, Jennifer Sharp, Mark A. Hall, Rebecca Redfern, Jelena Bekvalac, Gillian Scott, Simon Mays, Charlotte Roberts, Jacqueline I. McKinley, Mike Parker Pearson, Mike Pitts, Duncan Sayer, Margaret Clegg.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-074-3
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Myra Giesen
  5. List of abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction: Human Remains Curation in the United Kingdom
    (pp. 1-12)
    Myra Giesen

    Archaeologists, museum practitioners, government agencies, claimants and the public often disagree over the subject of human remains (see Walker 2008). Questions of how to care for, store, display and interpret human remains can be contentious, where ownership debates place the subject into the political, cultural and legal arenas. in their landmark book, Cassman et al(2007) summarised key issues faced by curators of human remains, which embellish topics discussed in the 2005 publication by the Department for Culture, Media and sport (DCMS) Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums. This reference document is for the use of institutions in...

  7. 1 International Perspectives towards Human Remains Curation
    (pp. 13-24)
    Myra Giesen and Liz White

    The primary purpose of this book is to discuss the curation of human remains within the United Kingdom (UK). However, one can only understand UK issues if one is also aware of how remains are viewed, defined and curated elsewhere in the world. Legal and social considerations differ widely among and between countries and cultures relative to the handling of human remains (Clegg et alin press; Lohman and Goodnow 2006). The goal of this chapter is to provide examples of international perspectives to place UK issues into a broader context.

    Obviously, individual and local perspectives on human remains are driven...

  8. 2 Dealings with the Dead: A Personal Consideration of the Ongoing Human Remains Debate
    (pp. 25-30)
    Hedley Swain

    As a ten-year-old child, I was scared of an Andean mummy displayed in my local museum (the Horniman in South East London). I did not ponder its humanity, the ethics of displaying it or the rights of those who might wish to reclaim it. I was just scared of it. I am not scared of human remains any more. Over many years of working in close proximity with skeletons I have never sensed that I was in the presence of something inherently sacred or holding some residue of the living. I do not believe in ghosts. However, I did have...

  9. 3 Care, Custody and Display of Human Remains: Legal and Ethical Obligations
    (pp. 31-42)
    Charlotte Woodhead

    Various types of repositories have custody of, and care for, human remains, ranging from university collections or medical institutions to local or national museums (see Introduction). Therefore, the general term ‘holding repository’ will be used in this chapter to refer to the institutions that store, care for, use in research or occasionally display human remains. Similarly, the types of human remains held by holding repositories vary in nature from small bone fragments and tissue samples to complete skeletons. There is an increased sensitivity regarding the recently dead, particularly for their relatives. However, other remains may be of people who died...

  10. 4 The Impact and Effectiveness of the Human Tissue Act 2004 and the Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums in England
    (pp. 43-52)
    Liz White

    This chapter provides a broad overview of the impact and effectiveness that the Human Tissue Act2004 (HTAct) and the Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums(Guidance) (DCMS 2005) have had on museums in England (White 2011). Woodhead has discussed the origin and status of both the HTActand the Guidance in Chapter 3; thus it will not be examined in depth here. Suffice to say that the HTAct is a law drafted chiefly for application in the medical sector, although it does have potentially far-reaching consequences for a limited number of museums: first because Section 47 of the HTActgave...

  11. 5 Dead and Forgotten? Some Observations on Human Remains Documentation in the UK
    (pp. 53-64)
    Myra Giesen, Kirsty McCarrison and Victoria Park

    The study of human remains can provide major insights into health, trauma, migration patterns, demography and many other important lifeways questions. However, answering them often depends upon a combination of excavation records, collection histories and associated funerary objects as well as analysis of human remains themselves. The availability of such evidence is largely dependent upon accurate and accessible collection records and up-to-date curation documents. In this chapter, we will consider associated documents, in general, and then those specifically related to human remains collections in repositories located in England; what influences documentation prioritisation; and what information about human remains collections is...

  12. 6 Tethering Time and Tide? Human Remains Guidance and Legislation for Scottish Museums
    (pp. 65-74)
    Jennifer Sharp and Mark A Hall

    The ability of human remains in Scotland, as elsewhere, to raise awareness of historical issues, to help us understand who we are and to teach us about race, diet, physiology, disease and the environment, is well documented (eg Pearson 1999; Alfonso and Powell 2007; Mays 2010). Investigation of the elaborate mortuary rituals that all cultures throughout history have created can also reveal to us a great deal about beliefs and about social bonding and identity(Pearson 1999; Alfonso and Powell 2007, 5–7). Perhaps most significantly, human remains have an ability to help people understand and relate to the past in...

  13. 7 The Quick and the Deid: A Scottish Perspective on Caring for Human Remains at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery
    (pp. 75-86)
    Mark A Hall

    As discussed elsewhere in this book, ongoing anxieties exist about the contemporary treatment of human remains in society, which has fed recent academic discussions of the ethics around the archaeological engagement with the dead (Jenkins 2008; Moshenska 2009; Sayer 2009). This case study chapter outlines the care regime for human remains in Perth Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG) and explores the public reaction to the display of those remains (in particular the medieval skeletal material displayed in the exhibition Skin and Bone: Life and Death in Medieval Perth).

    If a museum houses human remains then it has a fundamental duty...

  14. 8 The Museum of London: An Overview of Policies and Practice
    (pp. 87-98)
    Rebecca Redfern and Jelena Bekvalac

    The collections held by the Museum of London (MoL) have a long history, representing the endeavours of antiquarians and early-Modern excavators working in the City and Greater London area whose finds were deposited originally at the City’s Guildhall and London Museum at Kensington Palace. In 1976, as part of the Barbican Estate, the MoL opened to the public and has become one of the largest urban history museums in the world, holding the biggest archaeological archive in Europe. The MoL Group includes the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) and, until 2011, the commercial field unit, Museum of London...

  15. 9 Curating Human Remains in a Regional Museum: Policy and Practice at the Great North Museum: Hancock
    (pp. 99-108)
    Gillian Scott

    The Great North Museum: Hancock (GNM) is one of 12 museums, galleries and archives in the North East of England that collectively form Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM). Situated in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne, the GNM incorporates collections from the original Hancock Museum, owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) and opened originally in 1884, alongside collections from the former Newcastle University Museum of Antiquities (owned by the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (SANT)) and the University’s Shefton Museum of Greek and Etruscan archaeology. The GNM is managed by TWAM on behalf...

  16. 10 Curation of Human Remains at St Peter’s Church, Barton-upon-Humber, England
    (pp. 109-122)
    Simon Mays

    This chapter outlines why long-term archiving of archaeological human remains for research purposes is important. It then discusses a policy initiative by English Heritage and the Church of England that entails, where appropriate, the archiving of important collections of human remains in redundant or partially redundant churches. The main part of the chapter discusses an example of such a facility, at St Peter’s Church, Barton-upon-Humber. The creation of church archives of human remains involves its own challenges, and the Barton-upon-Humber case illustrates some of these. in closing, the chapter discusses the prospects for the creation of further church archives of...

  17. 11 Archaeological Human Remains and Laboratories: Attaining Acceptable Standards for Curating Skeletal Remains for Teaching and Research
    (pp. 123-134)
    Charlotte Roberts

    The study of archaeological human remains can be argued to be the most important part of the discipline of archaeology (Roberts 2009a). Humans created the past, the past that archaeologists excavate, and without understanding how our ancestors lived and died it is not possible to understand the very structure of society. Therefore, without humans, we would have no past to excavate. Furthermore, in order to appreciate those people that created our heritage, we need to study their remains to gain knowledge about the impact of their environments on their lives, from birth to death. Of course, this works two ways;...

  18. 12 ‘No Room at the Inn’ … Contract Archaeology and the Storage of Human Remains
    (pp. 135-146)
    Jacqueline I McKinley

    The implementation of Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 16 in England in 1990 (and equivalent statutory instruments elsewhere in the UK) heralded a massive change in British archaeology. The guidance – for such is what it is, rather than being a mandatory regulation – shifted the onus of payment for archaeological works from central government (in the shape of the Department of the Environment) to the developer, following the ‘polluter pays’ principle (see House of Commons 1990). The implicit intention was to make the development of archaeologically important sites prohibitively expensive through the normal operation of market forces (ie monetarist economic policy; Maunder...

  19. 13 Changes in Policy for Excavating Human Remains in England and Wales
    (pp. 147-158)
    Mike Parker Pearson, Mike Pitts and Duncan Sayer

    This chapter examines the legal and procedural aspects concerning the archaeological excavation of human remains in England and Wales (the situation in Scotland is covered by different legislation; see Chapter 6). There is a wide variety of legislation and codes of practice, which bear directly or indirectly upon the archaeological recovery of such remains and their subsequent analysis and curation. Since 2008, the situation has proved problematic because of a reinterpretation of the burial laws that affect archaeology (see Sayer 2010). Changes in advice and consultation by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have attempted to resolve these problems, but requests...

  20. 14 Conclusions and Ways Forward
    (pp. 159-166)
    Margaret Clegg

    This volume is an attempt to clarify the current thinking on how we in museums, universities and other repositories that hold human remains care for and address the myriad issues that surround human remains. There has in the past been a lack of emphasis on what caring for human remains entails, which has given rise to the erroneous view that human remains in museums sit unused or unresearched on dusty shelves. We have in the past been too self-deprecating and reticent to really discuss what we do. This reluctance has to some extent led to the views expressed by the...

  21. Appendix 1 DCMS Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums: Contents page and Part 2
    (pp. 167-175)
  22. Appendix 2 MGS Guidelines for the Care of Human Remains in Scottish Museum Collections: Contents page and Chapter 2
    (pp. 176-186)
  23. List of Contributors
    (pp. 187-190)
  24. Index
    (pp. 191-198)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-201)