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The Dignity of the Dead: Ethical Reflections on the Archaeology of Human Remains

Abstract

What is wrong with moving, analysing, and exhibiting an inert body of the past? Is it morally legitimate to manipulate the body or part of it that constituted the physiological essence of a subject with dignity? This chapter focuses, from a philosophical perspective, on analysing whether the notion of dignity can be applied to the human remains of a subject that no longer is. Ascribing dignity to dead bodies is problematic and needs conceptual clarifications in order to determine whether human corpses have certain moral status and should be protected or whether the notion of dignity should only be attributed to living persons. In this regard, as philosphers, we present a different notion of dignity from that used by Kant (1785) that it is commonly accepted when speaking about dignity, particularly since the Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations General Assembly 1948) . In this chapter, the concepts “present dead” and “forgotten dead ” are differentiated to justify that, even though the latter have not been object of special moral protection, they should be included under the concept of dignity. In addition, a notion of dignity grounded in the hermeneutical concept of understanding is presented to justify the role archaeology plays in providing a particular moral status to human remains and the material elements associated to them.

Lydia de Tienda Palop—This paper falls within the Juan de la Cierva research programme IJCI-2014-19375 funded by the Ministerio de Ciencia y Competitividad of Spain.

Brais X. Currás—This paper falls within the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia postdoctoral programme (SFRH/BPD/102407/2014) and of the research project HAR2015-64632-P, “Paisajes rurales antiguos del Noroeste peninsular: formas de dominación romana y explotación de recursos (CORUS)”, financed by the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación and directed from the Instituto de Historia (CCHS, CSIC).

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Correspondence to Lydia de Tienda Palop .

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de Tienda Palop, L., Currás, B.X. (2019). The Dignity of the Dead: Ethical Reflections on the Archaeology of Human Remains. 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_2

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