Museum Ethics and the Display of Archaeological Human Remains

Author(s): Lia Tarle; George Nicholas; Hugo Cardoso

Year: 2017


Museums display archaeological human remains to educate visitors about past people’s lives, beliefs, and customs, and to encourage reflection. However, over the past fifty years, political changes, including civil rights, decolonization, and repatriation movements, have driven some museum professionals and academics to re-evaluate the authority of museums and their ethics. These developments have inspired discussions about the ethical treatment of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous human remains, which are now reflected in professional guidelines and accords emphasizing ‘respect’. The display of Indigenous human remains is usually considered unethical. However, when it comes to other institutionalized human remains, the definition of ‘respect’ is unclear. A number of museum professionals have experimented with methods of displaying non-Indigenous archaeological human remains with respect. They attempt to tackle this ethical issue and create public dialogue by displaying remains in new ways, or by removing existing displays. This presentation will review recent developments in museum ethics pertaining to the treatment of human remains, with a focus on novel approaches to displaying archaeological human remains. It will highlight public and professional reactions to such displays, and discuss what may be learned from these examples about ethical display practices for the future.

Cite this Record

Museum Ethics and the Display of Archaeological Human Remains. Lia Tarle, George Nicholas, Hugo Cardoso. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429013)

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Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14657