Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Book: Contesting Human Remains

Profile of Tiffany Jenkins available on the LSE's website, which includes an overview of the book.

The Guardian, UK (Emine Saner)

In a book published yesterday, Tiffany Jenkins, a sociologist, highlighted how uneasy museums are becoming when it comes to displaying human remains. Jenkins gave examples including the Museum of London, which removed bones showing the effects of rickets, and Manchester University Museum, which took the head of an iron-age human, Worsley Man, off display; in 2008, it briefly covered its mummies with sheets.

Jenkins claims that museums are bowing to pressure from organisations such as the pagan group Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD).

The Guardian, UK (Maev Kennedy)

Museums are increasingly getting cold feet about exhibiting human bodies and body parts – despite surveys showing the public is fascinated and quite untroubled by such displays.

In a book published today, Tiffany Jenkins, a sociologist who is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics's law department, argues mummies and other human remains have been displayed covered by linen wrappings, in dark cases that have to be illuminated by pressing a button, displayed with warning notices or been taken off display completely.

Examples she has uncovered in her book, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections, include bones showing rickets – a disease of poverty and malnutrition which produced deformity of the legs – taken off display at the Museum of London and the head of an iron age bog body, Worsley Man, removed at Manchester University Museum. Manchester also covered its mummies with linen sheets, but uncovered them after public protest.

Daily Mail (Sarah Harris)

Museums are hiding away mummies and human remains for fear of offending pagans and other minority groups, it has been revealed.

They are putting up warning signs, closing previously opened coffins and displaying exhibits in darkened cases.

This is despite the fact that such displays are among the most popular attractions.
Covering up: Dr Rosalie David, keeper of Egyptology at Manchester Museum, pictured with the Mummy of Asru. Mummies at museums are being covered up to avoid offending faith groups

The move is designed to give the skeletons and mummies ‘privacy’ and to avoid upsetting faith groups and even some museum staff, according to academic findings.

Research shows how 17 museums have drafted policies on human remains, with most advocating that signs are put up to warn visitors of their presence.

Manchester University Museum’s policy requires consultation before displaying human remains, particularly with what it calls ‘marginalised communities and faith groups’.

At the insistence of a pagan group called Honouring the Ancient Dead, it removed the head of an Iron Age bog body – the skull of Worsley Man, which was found buried near Manchester 50 years ago – from display.

It also covered up the unwrapped mummy of Asru, the partially-wrapped mummy of Khary, and a child mummy with sheets. The three mummies were uncovered only after a public protest.

Meanwhile, the Egypt gallery at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery has changed its display of Egyptian human remains.

Instead of the previous display of mummies in open coffins, it now exhibits them with half closed lids, which it considers more respectful.

And the Royal Cornwall Museum, in Truro, does not show any images of human remains, other than wrapped mummies, in its online or publicity material. The trend towards political correctness in museums has been highlighted by Dr Tiffany Jenkins, a sociologist who is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In her book, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections, published today, she reveals the radical change in policy on ancient human remains, including Egyptian mummies, skeletons and bog bodies.

The Telegraph (Louise Gray)

Already museums around the country have been forced to close coffin lids, remove skeletons and respectfully replace the shroud on mummies in order to placate protesters. There are fears such artefacts could be banned altogether.

Small groups such as the Pagan Organisation Honouring the Ancient Dead claim that it is against the religious beliefs of our ancestors to put bodies on show.

Museums are becoming increasingly nervous about displaying human remains. Seventeen have drawn up guidelines advising curators to warn the public and only display photographs of mummies with a shroud.

The Egypt gallery at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery now has half-closed coffin lids on its display of mummies.


Doobie said...

It's just the usual PC crap from people with a pretend religion (neo-pagans that can trace their heritage all the way back to the 1960s if they're very lucky) forcing their views on the rest of us. Fortunately it is (mainly) just Britain that engages in this sort of anti-intellectual malarkey; most other museums in other countries are much more sensible.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree.