Human Remains and Archeology

There is currently a debate going on as to what extent, if any, that archaeologists and paleontologists should be allowed to utilize human remains (as exhibits in museums and specimens in laboratories).

You can hear both sides of the issue on this National Geographic link:

If you refuse to read the link, I’ll summarize the debate as best I can. The side in favor of this practice claim that the scientific knowledge gained by this is invaluable and that they are the only real representatives for the long deceased humans (people who might otherwise have been forgotten). The side opposed to the practice claim that disturbing and mishandling of the dead violates both religious doctrines of the dead (in many cases) as well as basic human decency (since the dead did not give the scientists permission).

What is your opinion on the issue?

And this is a topic pertaining to liturgy and sacraments precisely how, please?


I guess I put this in the wrong place. My bad.


Perhaps you could seek the kindness of a forum administrator or a moderator to transfer your thread.

They would certainly know better than I where it should properly be placed but, it seems to me, if your intent involves more a discussion focused on the archaeological/scientific aspect, the back fence would be a viable choice. If your interest lies more with a discussion focused on the moral and ethical ramifications, it could rationally find a place under the rubric of moral theology, especially by way of the theology of the human person/theological anthropology as it relates to the treatment of human remains.

I am afraid I can offer you no meaningful suggestion, however, relative to liturgy and sacraments. The evocation of paleontologists would point to an epoch well antecedent to this sub-forum’s scope.

OP; have you moved this please as I want to follow it? Thank you… maybe world news would fit? or ethics?

:clapping: That, my friend, is a quote worth it’s bandwidth.


The liturgical practice of placing the relics of our saints in the altar may apply.

I think that when remains are discovered they should be treated with respect no matter how old they are. I think it’s okay to study the remains if there are no overwhelming cultural or religious objections, but the remains must be respectfully laid to rest after a reasonable amount of time has been given to study them.

I do not think remains should be put on display in museums. Recreations of the remains should be acceptable for display.

“Why do we care so much about the rights of the dead, who, by virtue of their non-living status, have no apparent opinion on the matter?”

This ^ quote from the article gives insight into some of the opinions that are in favor of unlimited study and display. I guess it didn’t occur to them that they to will be dead someday too but can nevertheless make their opinion known while they are still alive. And furthermore, that a consensus of diverse cultural and religious opinions on the matter can suffice for a ‘natural human norm’ for those who are not around to make their opinion known as it relates to the question, “How will mankind deal with unknown human remains?”

Wise words; thank you

It struck a chord as this came up here a few hours before your thread…

And I was … well, not happy at some of it…

Living in parts of ireland,I know that during the Famine, many died in ditches etc and where I lived that was so. no marked resting place…

May the remains of these be given privacy and respect, Horrible to see them exposed like that

There are no rights, nor dignity in death. Get used to it.

The Catholic Church says otherwise. That’s why The Church forbids Catholics from scattering the ashes of loved ones; it’s meant to ensure respect for the dead.

Indeed, many states actually have laws against grave robbery, necrophilia, and so on (the states that lack such laws almost always just forgot to put them in). In fact it is actually considered a war-crime to mutilate the corpses of dead enemies or to leave them to rot in the open; if a soldier carves up a dead enemy or collects battlefield trophies (like human skulls or human ears) then he can be put on trial by a tribunal and can spend years in prison.

I agree: a homo-sapien skeleton from the middle paleolithic is no less human than the skeleton of someone’s dead grandfather. Remains should be treated in the manner that the person they belonged to would have wanted. Even if that means reburial or cremation. Likewise if that person’s religious beliefs can be identified than current followers of said belief should be asked to preform a funerary ritual when the body is being laid to earth.

On this point I think it depends on the culture of the person whose remains are being displayed. If a culture group believed that the dead should be buried or never seen again by the living then remains of humans from that culture should not be displayed. But if a culture group believed that the dead should be publicly visible (such a the Inca, who visited their mummified ancestors and asked them for advice) then I think it would be ok to display them in a museum.

That question wasn’t meant to suggest that we shouldn’t care. After that comes reasons why people care about the dead, and why this is an issue. The article ends with the quote below:

“Above all else, when discussing human remains, the terms that most commonly emerge are “respect” and “decency.” How we deal with the dead is how we gauge our own humanity. It’s why, depending on one’s perspective, the excavation of the dead can be seen as an act of desecration or as an act in service to those who might otherwise be forgotten.”

That. my friend, needs better wording please? :eek:

Thank you… :thumbsup:

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