The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Exhibiting Bodies: Confronting the Human Remains Debate in Public Museums


Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Thursday Evening, Park Concourse Add to calendar

Museums largely serve as the venue for promoting anthropological research to the greater public. These are dynamic institutions, however, that must respond to fluctuating social concerns. Currently, the field of physical anthropology is directly affected by the contentious museum climate regarding the display of human remains. To confront this issue, a multidisciplinary approach explores transitions in public perception and the evolution of museum practices associated with these materials. The contemporary examination of museums is achieved through qualitative research as well as a quantitative analysis of human remain displays. A survey of eleven English museums was implemented focusing on institutional characteristics, representations of human remain types, display features, and spatial and thematic trends. Within each of these categories a numeric scoring system was developed, allowing for statistical analysis to be completed both within and across fields. Although this survey approach was only used to assess permanent displays, trends in temporary exhibitions are also investigated. Results suggest that despite vocalized hesitations, displaying human remains can be completed in an educational manner which is both respectful to the content and its visiting audience. The prospects of such a conclusion are highly favorable to the discipline of physical anthropology. With a greater museums presence, more information can be spread to an already large audience therein promoting widespread knowledge as to the human existence and fostering further excitement in like forms of research.

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