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‘The Dead Teach the Living’: Ethical Considerations Concerning the Management of Collections of Human Remains in Universities

Abstract

This chapter discusses ethical implications that arise from teaching with collections of human remains. Despite focusing on UK universities, many recommendations are also applicable to teaching in non-UK institutions, although it has to be acknowledged that ethical issues are variable across cultural and geographic borders and evolve through time. This chapter has arisen out of the need to provide a solid grounding for advancing research, through training future generations of human bioarchaeologists to deal with the realities of working with human remains in archaeological and related contexts. This is achieved through scrutinising current university teaching practices involving human remains, stressing the importance of using real human remains, supplemented with the use of casts and images, in teaching. The need for ethics training at all levels of teaching and research in universities and other institutions is also highlighted. In addition to evaluating ‘traditional’ teaching with human remains, this chapter covers ethical aspects of using digital and social media and aims to assist university staff to develop their own ethical guidelines and policies, including those related to public outreach and other forms of recruitment. It is important that such policies are developed, and that particular care is taken to make these specific to ethical issues surrounding human remains.

‘The Dead Teach the Living’—This title was inspired by Charlotte Roberts (2013) who drew our attention to the motto of the Paleopathology Association (n.d.): Mortui viventes docent.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://www.jbasarchaeology.co.uk/.

  2. 2.

    http://www.yorkosteoarch.co.uk/index.php.

  3. 3.

    https://www.dur.ac.uk/archaeology/.

  4. 4.

    https://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the editors for inviting us to contribute to this volume, and for their helpful comments on the text. We are grateful to Nicholas Syrotiuk (Data Research Manager) and Colin Hopkins (Infrastructure Architect, Durham University) for their helpful suggestions regarding long-term digital data curation; Bob Brown, Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA, for allowing us to include his material on sharing lecture notes and slides; and Steve Robertson (Archaeological Science Technician, Durham University) for drawing our attention to a recent undergraduate dissertation on how storage conditions affect DNA degradation. Brenda Baker (Arizona State University, Tempe, USA), Michaela Binder (Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut und Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, Österreich), Sophie Newman (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK), and Ana Luisa Santos (Universidade de Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal) are thanked for their discussions on ethical guidelines used in their respective laboratories.

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Caffell, A., Jakob, T. (2019). ‘The Dead Teach the Living’: Ethical Considerations Concerning the Management of Collections of Human Remains in Universities. 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_9

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