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Human Remains: objects to study or ancestors to bury?

Are human remains in museums really the property of long distant relatives, or the scholarly responsibility of curators and scientists?

Museums and research institutions have always contained collections of human remains, from ancient mummies to shrunken heads, which have told us about patterns of evolution and the lives of past cultures. But ethical battles now rage about 'who owns the bones'. A committee at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has recommended that the bones can be returned to the country and culture of origin, and that institutions obtain consent to work on the remains retained. The Human Tissue Bill will make it legally possible for museums to deaccession remains.

Are these bones really the property of long distant relatives, or the scholarly responsibility of curators and scientists? Are museums and scientific institutions surrendering invaluable artefacts and sacrificing greater knowledge of humanity that we have a responsibility to honour?


Maurice Davies, deputy director of the Museums Association

Robert Foley, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, Cambridge

Tiffany Jenkins, arts and society director, Institute of Ideas; author of the forthcoming Institute of Ideas paper, Human Remains: objects to study or ancestors to bury?


Tiffany Jenkins | talks | www
Deputy Director, Museums Assoc Maurice Davies | talks
Professor Robert Foley | talks


Date and Time:

18 May 2004 at 7:00 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



The Royal Institution of Great Britain
21 Albemarle Street
+44 20 74 09 29 92
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Organised by:

Institute of Ideas
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Tickets cost £8, £5 for Ri Members and concessions.

Available from:

Book on the Royal Institution website or call the automated booking line on +44 20 76 70 29 85

Additional Information:

This debate launches the first in a new series of occasional papers published by the Institute of Ideas.

'Human Remains: objects to study or ancestors to bury?', written by Tiffany Jenkins, upholds the case for research on human remains, and picks apart the problems with the arguments for 'repatriation' on the basis of tribal or other affiliation.

To order a copy, send a cheque for £7 (£6 for the paper + £1 postage) or £11 (£10 + £1 postage) to:

Academy of Ideas, Signet House, 49-51 Farringdon Road, London, EC1M 3JP.

Please make cheques payable to 'Academy of Ideas Ltd.'

For credit or debit card payments, call:

+44 (0)20 7269 9220

All occasional papers will be sent free to IoI Associates. To join the IoI as an associate, see our support page

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