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Human Remains Store

Archaeological Human Remains Collections

Human remains collections give us an intimate connection with people of the past.

They attract great interest from researchers as well as museum visitors and there is now a wealth of methods for studying them, ranging from osteology to cutting-edge scientific techniques such as ancient DNA (aDNA) and isotopic analysis. These approaches provide valuable insights into how people lived and died.

This resource, created in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland, focuses on Scottish archaeological collections of human remains resulting from recent and historic excavations though many of the topics will apply more broadly.

[Content warning: This page and linked resources contain images and descriptions of archaeological human remains.]

What can we learn from the dead?

This series of short video presentations, delivered by experts working in the field, explore the different scientific techniques now available to study these collections, best practice relating to sampling, and the ethical debates around the appropriate management of human remains.

The videos are intended to assist those working in the museum and heritage sector to:

  • Understand and recognise the potential of human remains collections
  • Gain a better understanding of the appropriate management of these collections
  • Have a greater awareness of the sensitivities and ethics that surround archaeological human remains stored in museum collections
  • Gain knowledge of the most common scientific analyses that can be applied to archaeological human remains and appropriate sampling strategies.

A list of resources is provided for further reading.

 Additional Resources and Further Reading

Brickley, M. & McKinley, J.I. (eds) 2004. Guidelines to the standards for recording human remains [pdf]

Mays, S. 2018. The Role of the Human Osteologist in an Archaeological Fieldwork Project

Mitchell, P.D. & Brickley, M. (eds) 2017. Updated Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains [pdf]

Roberts, C.A. & O’Connell, B. 2004. Guidance on recording palaeopathology, in Guidelines to the standards for recording human remains. Reading: British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology and Institute of Field Archaeologists, pp. 34-39. IFA papers (7)

Archaeology Vlog: 'Trams to Newhaven' (Youtube video series, 2020-2022)

The Achavanich Beaker Burial

Booth, T. 2020. Cheddar Man | Prehistoric Boundaries & Migrations – INTERVIEW

Cold Case Whithorn

Foreign Countries podcast, with Linda Fibiger, Angela Boyle and Elin Ahlin Sundman (2021): An Osteoarchaeology of Violence & Trauma in the European Past: SE1. Special Episode: An Osteoarchaeology of Violence & Trauma in the European Past (podbean.com)

HistoGenes

Mara Karell: Learning from the dead: why do archaeologists excavate, move and analyse human remains?

Sheridan, A. & Brown, L. (presented by Angela Boyle) 2018 (Youtube) DNA analysis of ancient individuals found in Scotland.

Viking Genes Unravelled. Discussion with Cat Jarman from the History Extra podcast (2020)

Giesen, M. (ed.) 2013. Curating Human Remains. Caring for the Dead in the United Kingdom. Boydell & Brewer.

Mays, S. 2021. The Archaeology of Human Bones. London: Routledge.

Roberts, C.A. 2009. Human Remains in Archaeology: A Handbook. Council for British Archaeology.

Sayer, D. 2010. Ethics and Burial Archaeology. Bloomsbury.

White, T.D. & Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. Elsevier Academic Press.

In partnership with

Historic Environment Scotland logo Scotland's Archaeology Strategy logo

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