Human remains: people or objects
William Rathouse (University of Wales: Trinity St David)
Paper short abstract:
Protestors against the museum display of human remains sometimes claim that displaying bones and preserved bodies removes their humanity, reducing them to the status of objects. This paper examines whether skeletons are considered persons or objects and then explores how museum display affects this perception.
Paper long abstract:
One area where the practice of archaeology and its dissemination to the general public has been contested is the realm of human bioarchaeology. Aboriginal communities from formerly colonised areas have successfully campaigned for their ancestral remains to be repatriated and reinterred. Since the 1990s, activists within the contemporary Pagan community in the UK have begun to campaign for reburial of pre-Christian human remains. One of the principle arguments against the display and archiving of ancient human remains is that these practices do not respect remains as people, reducing them to objects. This paper evaluates this argument assessing the extent to which human remains are considered persons and then the extent to which museum display may be said to be detrimental to the individual identity of these deceased people.