A recent query

I had a recent query on one of my Facebook posts about the excavation of human remains.

“Often wonder about archaeologists digging human remains up, is it ethical to disturb interred bodies who were obviously buried by someone that cared and valued the person enough to bury them? How would they react to a complete stranger digging their great grandparents up? What if I went into Westminster Abbey and dug up dead kings ? And what useful information can we learn I wonder?”

These are some great questions and an often debated topic. But as it is such a large topic I am going to break this up into several different posts.

The first will cover the brief history of the study of human remains in archaeology (osteoarchaeology), the second will look at historical and current ethics and practice, and the third will cover what we can learn from human remains (although this may turn into more than one). I will also review some books that I will be referencing in the blog posts for those who may wish to learn more.

I hope this will interest some of you. I will aim to do one blog post a week covering this topic, but depending on my schedule it may take slightly longer.

I did offer this very brief reply to the query

“Those are some excellent questions, and often hotly debated. I will cover this in a blog article in the next couple of weeks.

There are very strict ethical rules and guidelines governing the excavation of human remains, how they are studied and what happens to them afterwards.

In very general terms, a lot of human remains found on sites these days are either found as a consequence of excavating a site (i.e they did not necessarily expect to find human remains as part of that excavation). Or, they are excavated as part of a research project (in which case this where the main ethical part of question lies), or they are excavated as part of rescue archaeology ahead of development (again this may fall into the first category) or due to a natural disaster. In some of these cases the remains are removed (you n order to stop them being destroyed) and are reinterred elsewhere.”

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