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At what point does a body stop being a the remains of a person, to be treated with respect, and become an artefact for display in a museum?

(48 Posts)
ProudNeathGirl Sat 22-Sep-12 23:23:39

I met the man who led the dig to find Richard III today and it got me thinking.
How long after death is it OK to dig up a skeleton for research, and possible display in a museum?
I'd hate to think that in a thousand years from now I'd be lying in a glass case somewhere.
I always feel sorry for people who's skeletons are dug up from wherever they were lovingly buried so that archeologists can poke them about in a lab.

Sparklingbrook Sat 22-Sep-12 23:26:49

I have often thought that Proud. Should Tutankhamun have been sprung from his final resting place?

culturemulcher Sat 22-Sep-12 23:31:24

sparkling me too. I was in the Egyptology part of a museum today and I wondered the same thing... but in the end, I thought that all these people were buried with the hope of an afterlife / immortality. Well, they got it grin

Sparklingbrook Sat 22-Sep-12 23:34:57

It's not right is it? I hate the way they dig the skeletons up and say ooh it was a young boy who died of whatever..... Leave the dead people alone. sad

TheCrackFox Sat 22-Sep-12 23:37:05

I've often thought that too. If by some bizarre accident I die in a glacier I do not want to appear in some sort of Time Team (no doubt presented by a cytogenetic Tony Robinson) special in a thousand years time.

ProudNeathGirl Sat 22-Sep-12 23:37:30

So it's not just me then!
Just how many skeletons do they need?

At least Rich 3 is going to be reburried, though it hasn't been agreed where they'll put him yet, if it is him.

Sparklingbrook Sat 22-Sep-12 23:41:04

I shall get a laminated sign for my coffin. 'DO NOT DIG ME UP' Thanks. grin

edam Sat 22-Sep-12 23:43:14

often they are digging because there's a major building project - the ground is going to be disturbed anyway. An archaeological survey is a requirement of planning in some cases. And the remains are treated with respect.

I'm probably going to be cremated, but if I was buried, I wouldn't mind in a couple of hundred years if some archaeologist wants to work out what I died from. A. because I'll be dead and in no position to raise objections and B. even if I'm wrong and there's an afterlife where I have the power to haunt said archaeologist (rather than being in a fiery pit thinking 'oh bugger, wish I'd been a bit less agnostic') I'd approve. Scientific inquiry is a good thing.

tribpot Sat 22-Sep-12 23:44:21

I can understand the testing on remains for research purposes, but surely there is no justification for displaying them in museums? Some of the ways in which the bodies have been preserved may be interesting (I'm thinking more of the peat bodies rather than mummies) but we still don't need to see a dead human who fell into a peat bog a thousand years ago.

edam Sat 22-Sep-12 23:47:10

Yes we do! I saw the peat bog body at the Museum of London - fascinating and awe-inspiring. He's been dead for more than 2,000 years, I really don't think he's worrying about it.

Sparklingbrook Sat 22-Sep-12 23:48:09

Poor peat bog man. sad

edam Sat 22-Sep-12 23:48:15

(Don't go to the Hunterian museum at the Royal College of Surgeons - many anatomical specimens including miscarried foetuses. Very sad and unsettling.)

DameFanny Sat 22-Sep-12 23:48:34

I'm not fussed what happens to me after - organ donation, cardboard coffin and woodland burial for me and DH.

What really makes me hmm though is the tomb of the unknown soldier in Paris. They picked one of the many unidentified bodies lying around after WWI, and decided to use it as national statement to whatever, without knowing if the poor bloke was willingly there, running away at the time, or a pacifist stretcher bearer for all I know.

Got quite cross reading that bit of history on the tour.

TheCrackFox Sat 22-Sep-12 23:48:42

But the whole indignity of it all. My whole life summed up by the remains of my stomach!

"we've analysed the contents of her stomach and her last meal was a bacon sanwich which indicates she was of the lower orders. Her hair was painted in a variety of synthetic gold colours and her feet clad in a sheep skin boot which indicates some sort of religious worship"

Sparklingbrook Sat 22-Sep-12 23:49:10

I think there was a pickled foetus at a museum we used to go to as a child. It was disturbing.

ProudNeathGirl Sat 22-Sep-12 23:51:30

His descendants are wandering about somewhere though edam.
I know they're all dead etc. just wondered at what point does it become ok. Obviously not after a year (unless for crime investigation or something).
Is it ok after 10 years, 100, 209, 1000?

tribpot Sat 22-Sep-12 23:52:07

I'm interested as to why we do need to see poor old Peat Guy. I appreciate he's a bit past caring. But why wouldn't a photo, or a replica, do instead?

edam Sat 22-Sep-12 23:53:56

I'd give it a couple of hundred. Just a personal view. I've got a friend who's an archaeologist, do you want me to ask him what the rules are about dealing with remains? I know they have to notify the cops until it's confirmed that the body is indeed Harald Haratha or someone and not Mrs Jane Smith of 53 Acacia Avenue, whose husband claimed £1.5m in life insurance and married his secretary within a month of the funeral...

ProudNeathGirl Sat 22-Sep-12 23:57:40

I would be interested edam.
I think they have to treat remains with respect no matter how old they are, but shy do they have to keep digging them up in the first place, unless discovered while building a multi-storey or something.
Just let them lie say I.

DanceMacabre Sat 22-Sep-12 23:58:34

There is a child's bones on display in Avebury museum (i assume they were found there or at nearby Silbury Hill) and there ahs long been a campaign by pagan / humanist groups to lay it to rest.

It is very interesting - when they dug up St Pancras cemetery to make way for the new railway terminal they looked over, analysed then reburied the bodies. I think most archaeologists have a certain respect for the dead.

Personally it would make my eternity to be dug up by Tony Robinson....grin

ProudNeathGirl Sun 23-Sep-12 00:00:26

Someone who died a couple of hundred years ago isn't very far removed from people alive now. My grandparents' grandparents for example.
I wouldn't want them being dug up. Not for religious reasons, just don't think it's a very nice thing to do.

DanceMacabre Sun 23-Sep-12 00:01:17

I must also say that i don't think there is anything to be gained by bringing up the Titanic as some have wanted....that is very much a grave site to be respected.

DanceMacabre Sun 23-Sep-12 00:02:58


sausagerolemodel Sun 23-Sep-12 00:07:47

I was working in Edinburgh University Anatomy Museum recently and it's full of people parts in jars. There is also a whole body in slices on the wall, and a preserved corpse from around 1800 iirc which had been a dissection subject. After Alder Hey there was a change in the law to protect desecration (in this case by removal of organs) of a body without explicit permission. However this left all the medical schools scratching their heads as they all had jars with bits in going back for years (often centuries), usually with no identity and almost certainly with no paper trail proving consent. The govt decided to pick 1970 as an arbitrary cut off date saying that specimens from before this were considered "historic" (and ok to keep) but anything from after then without specific consent would have be considered unusable (although it was never made clear what they should actually do with these sensitive unuseable samples** ). I don't know how it relates to really old remains though but there does seem to be a code of ethics for archeologists

sausagerolemodel Sun 23-Sep-12 00:13:40

**meant to add, debate ongoing about the idea that, if they destroy an anonymous sample that could otherwise be used for research or study, and it can't be identified anyway, who does it benefit? So do you destroy the tissue? Lock it away? (the same practical outcome) or just carry on using it for students as it was before, in which case what was the point of the Act?

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