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3D Data in Human Remains Disciplines: The Ethical Challenges

Abstract

The rapid proliferation of 3D imaging in mainstream science is changing the quality and quantity of data that can be obtained. In the study of human remains, the structures and variations of the skeleton holds significant probative value in reconstructing the biological and physical history of that individual. As such, these new 3D tools are being successfully applied in the visualisation and assessment of human remains across forensic and archaeological contexts. However, while the practical applications are being discussed in the published literature, there has been little to no consideration of the more conceptual issues around the widespread use of these novel technologies in human remains disciplines. 3D imaging is producing increasingly accurate and realistic models that share many physical traits, and cultural and societal significances with the original skeletal remains. These are serious causes of concern for the ownership , sharing , and use of these resultant 3D digitisations , especially since there are already unique ethical challenges in the study and use of human remains. This chapter will discuss these issues within the context of a survey which revealed conflicting opinions between researchers and curators concerning the use, ownership, and ethics of 3D digital data of human remains.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    N.b. Participants had the option to skip questions and as such sample sizes varies between questions presented later.

  2. 2.

    A full publication of the results is intended for the near future.

  3. 3.

    A research agreement is considered as a formal agreement between the researcher(s) and the curating institution as to the agreed boundaries of data to be collected and how that data can be used and shared.

  4. 4.

    Two institutions did not allow collection of 2D and photographic data, one institution did not allow 3D data collection.

  5. 5.

    The number of responses (n) has been included for each response rate as there is variation between the questions as some were not compulsory.

  6. 6.

    The authors acknowledge that these are moderately sized samples , however there is a broad spectrum of demographics (in terms of occupation, location, and background) that gives a wide collection of perspectives. Furthermore, in terms of the size of the disciplines and nature of the study, this is a reasonable sample size to expect.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the collection managers and researchers who have kindly taken the time to complete the questionnaires. We also want to acknowledge the vision of the editors in creating this volume as a valuable step towards establishing formalised and considered practice in the use of new 3D technologies in human remains research.

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Smith, S.E., Hirst, C.S. (2019). 3D Data in Human Remains Disciplines: The Ethical Challenges. In: Squires, K., Errickson, D., Márquez-Grant, N. (eds) Ethical Approaches to Human Remains. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-32926-6_14

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