Sharing ethics of displaying human remains in museums Ethics and human remains

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Rosagemma Ciliberti
Ezio Fulcheri
Paolo Petralia
Anna Siri


ethics; health anthropology; human remains; museum; bio-history; scientific racism


Human remains have a unique status within museum collections and raise several multifaceted and complex ethical and legal issues. The personal, cultural, symbolic, spiritual or religious significance they have for individuals and groups bears a particular responsibility on the museums in the way they are acquired, handled, and displayed. Human remains may also have the potential to contribute to the culture and common good, through research, teaching and, in a respectful mode, exhibitions. As a valuable resource, they actively encourage personal and community reflection on humanity's shared heritage.

As protagonists of an historical revision process, scientific collections can play a significant role in challenging prejudices and stereotypes of the past. They may foster the change and promote a deeper understanding of different cultural perspectives and practices, supporting equality and inclusion, and encouraging a policy open to participation and discussion on choices, in a close relationship with local communities.

In a complex and ever-changing world, museums need to ensure respect for the different ways of interpreting nature and human history by engaging with all stakeholders. This includes ethical issues related to the provenance of objects, acquisition, care, interpretation, display, and request for restitution, as well as a commitment by museums to stimulate constructive debate and consultation among the native people belonging the remains.

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