Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review: Contesting Human Remains / Ethics and Burial Archaeology

Minerva Magazine

Minerva currently has a review of two books looking at ethics and the handling of human remains. There have been discussions about the handling of mummified remains by museums. The debate at the Manchester Museum is a good example.

In the UK, human remains are currently a matter of contention and debate. On 4 February 2011, 40 archaeology professors wrote an open letter to Kenneth Clarke published in The Guardian, objecting to the current license conditions for excavating human remains that had been imposed on archaeologists by the Ministry of Justice since 2008. These conditions stipulate that UK archaeologists must rebury all human remains within two years of their exhumation.

The two books under review, individually and in combination, provide the context that led to this letter being composed, and together constitute a new voice for mortuary archaeology in the UK. Jenkins and Sayer both achieve their aims of writing fluent and well argued accounts of how the study and display of human remains from mortuary contexts constitute a long-standing aspect of British research culture and popular science.

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