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  • Writer's pictureLilly

Discussion: Human Remains in Museums

Updated: May 31, 2019

I visited the Elgin Museum recently - what a wonderful place! I was quite intrigued by the presentation of several human remains and the museum’s sensitive commentary on them. What are your thoughts on the matter? (I took the following text from a display next to the museum’s Peruvian Mummy which was acquired in 1846. The Peruvian government has not responded to inquiries from the museum about repatriating the mummy.)

“Should she be on display and how should she be represented? We consider any answer will be a compromise. She is currently still on display…Visitors have the choice whether or not to draw aside the curtain, and the young woman’s body, displayed in a bell jar, is secluded from open view.

We hope that this satisfies the curiosity of those who come asking to see her again after many years since their last visit as a child, while shifting the emphasis from the ghoulish and insensitive to the scientific and historically analytical. Her presence here is a prime example of the “that was then, this is now” attitude to collecting…

The ethical debate continues, And are there any differences in our attitudes to the other human remains on display in the museum: the shrunken head from Ecuador, the skeleton of Roseisle man in his cist, or the cervical vertebrae from the Sculptor’s Cave showing evidence of beheading?”

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