Collection Management Policies - Policy on Human Remains
NEXT REVIEW OCTOBER 2010
The collections of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (the ‘Museum’) include some human remains. We acknowledge that human remains were once part of living people. Accordingly, we will care for them in a culturally respectful manner while also making them available for research, learning and teaching where appropriate and in appropriate ways. We acknowledge that where and whenever we hold human remains that are less than one hundred years old, we will be bound by the Human Tissue Act 2004 and guidance issued by the Human Tissue Authority. We will abide by the terms within any guidance notes generated by the Human Tissue Authority that may have relevance to any of the collections it holds. We endorse the document Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums, published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2005.
Once approved by our Trustees, this Policy and its implementation will be managed and monitored by the Museum’s Director of Collections & Research. The Keepers of Collections Services, Archaeology & Numismatics, Social and Cultural History, Biodiversity and Systematic Biology and Art will each hold responsibility for its implementation in relation to the collections that they manage. Where required we will refer to the independent advice provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Human Remains Committee when responding to any requests for the repatriation of human remains.
3. DEFINITION OF HUMAN REMAINS
We acknowledge the definition of human remains given in the DCMS guidelines and base our definition on that. We use the term human remains to mean the bodies, and parts of bodies, of once living people from the species Homo sapiens (defined as individuals who fall within the range of anatomical forms known today and in the recent past) and any evolutionary earlier hominins with which modern humans today may share a common ancestor (e.g. Homo neanderthalensis). This includes osteological material (whole or part skeletons, individual bones, or fragments of bone or teeth), soft tissue including organs and skin, embryos and slide preparations of human tissue. In line with the Human Tissue Act 2004, the definition does not include hair and nails. Human remains also include any of the above which may have been modified in some way by human skill and/or may be physically bound-up with other non-human materials to form an artefact composed of several materials. This definition includes artworks composed of human bodily fluids and soft tissue.
4. DESCRIPTION/INVENTORY OF HOLDINGS
We cannot legally own human remains except where these remains have been treated or altered through the application of skill. However, we recognise the ethical responsibilities invested in us through possession of such remains. We are committed to treating all human remains in an ethical and socially responsible manner.
We hold human remains by virtue of the historic nature of the collection we care for. We believe in being open about the contents of the collection and in making information available to all enquirers. We have identified human remains currently stored in the following collection areas: Archaeology, Art, Zoology and Social and Cultural History.
We will publish full details, as far as is possible, of our holdings in a printable format on our website. This will include the following data:
- Numbers of remains: usually by assemblage, but wherever possible by individual skeleton and/or individual body part.
- Physical nature: for example, whether skeletal, slide preparation, etc., completeness and physical condition.
- Date: estimated date or period of death.
- Provenance: where the remains originated from, including cultural affiliation, if known, and any known context of recovery or subsequent history.
- Status within collection: whether fully accessioned, and if so the accession number(s), or loan from another institution or individual, and if so the date, period and purpose of the loan.
In addition we will maintain a publicly accessible research register detailing all requests for which research is carried out. The register will list:
- Project name
- Research objectives
- Research methodology
- Dates of research
- Research outputs – publications and data holdings
5. ACQUISITION OF HUMAN REMAINS
We may acquire human remains as a result of our own research and fieldwork projects. In such instances we will only exhume human remains following the attainment of a licence from the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The decision about whether or not to retain these permanently in the collection will be taken following full consultation with appropriate local communities and specialists. All acquisitions of human remains will be made with reference to the Museum’s Acquisition and Disposal Policy regarding the process to be followed.
6. EXHIBITION AND DISPLAY
Where human remains form part of an exhibition, either long or short term, we will display them in a culturally appropriate, sensitive and informative manner and will always accompanied by explanatory and contextual interpretation. Display of contested or identifiable human remains will only be made after due process of consultation with relevant cultural groups.
For all proposed displays containing human remains, including those containing incoming loans, the content, interpretation and marketing of the exhibition will be discussed by the exhibition curator in conjunction with the relevant Collection Keeper. For the display of human remains where a display licence is required under the terms of the Human Tissue Act, a licence will be procured before the remains enter the Museum building. The Exhibition Curator will work within guidance provided by the relevant Collection Keeper, the ‘Designated Individual’ (Director of Collections & Research)) and Licence Holders appointed during the licence application process.
7. LOANS IN
Incoming loans for display will be undertaken in accordance with section 6 above. Incoming loans for research will be subject to the approval of the relevant Collection Keeper. Should the loan contain human remains for which a storage or research licence is required under the terms of the Human Tissue Act, a licence will be procured before the remains enter the Museum building. The researcher will then work within guidance provided by the relevant Collection Keeper, the Designated Individual and Licence Holders appointed during the licence application process. The conditions within the Museum’s Policy on Loans will also be applied.
8. LOANS OUT
All requests for the loan of human remains will be subject to the terms of the conditions within the Museum’s Policy on Loans.
We aim to create a dedicated human remains store into which all human remains will be placed once separated from amongst their current mixed locations. Where possible, bones will be individually bagged and labelled. Archaeological remains will be organized according to site and by context, where known. In some instances human bones may be marked with a contextual or accession number, but we will strive not to mark remains unless deemed absolutely necessary to avoid confusion during their study or display. Wherever possible, individual skeletons will be stored singly in a box. Where bones from individuals are mixed, e.g. in a Neolithic chambered tomb, then they will be stored by archaeological context. Each box will be labelled with its archaeological site name and skeleton or context information if known.
All requests for access to human remains for research purposes must be put in writing to the relevant Keeper. All requests must explain the nature of the research and expected outcomes.
Any request for sampling or analysis of human remains must be put in writing using the Museum’s Sampling Application Form. These will be assessed, as required, by the relevant subject curator, conservator, Keeper and may require approval by an independent advisor.
All researchers granted approval for access will be expected to follow the guidance provided by the person designated to supervise the visit.
11. REPATRIATION, REBURIAL AND DEACCESSION
We will continue to be proactive in repatriating our foreign human remains, where appropriate to countries of origin. We will be open to requests for the repatriation of other human remains and will enter into full consultation with claimants. Claims for repatriation and reburial will be determined on a case by case basis in accordance with the procedure outlined in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s document Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums. Where appropriate we will also secure independent advice from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Human Remains Committee.
All requests for repatriation, reburial and deaccession must be submitted in writing to the Director General, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Final approval for transfer from the Museum’s possession will be subject to the Museum’s Acquisition and Disposal Policy and will be subject to confirmation by the Board of Trustees of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.