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Resolving the human remains crisis in British archaeology

Parker Pearson, MG; Moshenska, G; Schadla-Hall, T; (2011) Resolving the human remains crisis in British archaeology. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology , 21 6 - 10. 10.5334/pia.369. Green open access


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Human remains are a fundamental part of the archaeological record, offering unique insights into the lives of individuals and populations in the past. Like many archaeological materials human remains require distinctive and specialised methods of recovery, analysis and interpretation, while technological innovations and the accumulation of expertise have enabled archaeologists to extract ever greater amounts of information from assemblages of skeletal material. Alongside analyses of new finds, these advances have consistently thrown new light on existing collections of human remains in museums, universities and other institutions. Given the powerful emotional, social and religious meanings attached to the dead body, it is perhaps unsurprising that human remains pose a distinctive set of ethical questions for archaeologists. With the rise of indigenous rights movements and the emergence of post-colonial nations the acquisition and ownership of human remains became a divisive and politically loaded issue. It became increasingly clear that many human remains in museum collections around the world represented the traces of colonial exploitation and discredited pseudo-scientific theories of race. In the light of these debates and changing attitudes, some human remains were returned or repatriated to their communities of origin, a process which continues to this day. Recently a new set of challenges to the study of human remains has emerged from a rather unexpected direction: the British government revised its interpretation of nineteenth-century burial legislation in a way that would drastically curtail the ability of archaeologists to study human remains of any age excavated in England and Wales. This paper examines these extraordinary events and the legal, political and ethical questions that they raise.

Type: Article
Title: Resolving the human remains crisis in British archaeology
Location: UK
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.5334/pia.369
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pia.369
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1419102
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