Ethical considerations for archaeological human remains
Charlotte Roberts (Professor in the Department of Archaeology, Durham University) discusses the study of human remains from archaeological sites. It can be argued that this area is central to understanding the past. They are integral to understanding how our ancestors lived and died.
The study of human remains from archaeological sites is a thriving area of archaeology, especially in the UK. It can be argued that this area is central to understanding the past. They are integral to understanding how our ancestors lived and died. Usually people who work in this field, bioarchaeologists, have archaeology or anthropology undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Many graduates work in commercial archaeology, being involved in both excavation and analysis. Most remains are skeletons, but in some parts of the world the environmental conditions may preserve whole bodies.
We should be reminded that the remains that we study represent once living people like us and bioarchaeologists should, and usually do, pay due respect to their remains. The majority of skeletons excavated in the UK are in advance of new building projects and their excavation is a legal requirement. To be able to study the skeletons that are excavated is a privilege and not a right. This talk introduces bioarchaeology and its value in interpreting the past, considers the ethical implications of excavating, studying, displaying and storing human remains, and shows how the UK has and is addressing ethical aspects of this very important part of archaeology.
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