Human remains as sensitive objects

Collecting and exhibiting human remains raises ethical questions today. Human remains are therefore considered "sensitive objects". In addition, objects with religious significance and objects whose acquisition, origin and production are questionable or unknown are also considered sensitive. Central to dealing with "sensitive objects" is transdisciplinary research into their origin (provenance research). The significance of human remains can be understood differently depending on the context or the spirit of the times. This is why the International Council of Museums ICOM formulates guidelines in which it refers to the duty of care in view of the origin of the objects. According to ICOM, the scientific study and exhibition of "sensitive objects" must be carried out "in compliance with professional standards and take into account the interests and beliefs of the social, ethnic or religious groups from which the objects originate, insofar as these are known".  According to ICOM, if the origin of an object is unknown, it should not be exhibited. Requests for restitution from societies of origin should be pursued with respect and sensitivity. It is important for us to emphasise that human remains are human beings. The deceased were and are treated and buried on the basis of specific and diverse ideas. The views and practices of the societies of origin should determine how human remains are treated.
"The exhibition of human remains and objects of religious significance must be carried out in accordance with professional standards and, as far as is known, take into account the interests and beliefs of the social, ethnic or religious groups from which the objects originate. The objects must be presented with tact and respect for the feelings of human dignity that all peoples have" (ICOM 2004: 19).
The German Museums Association defines what human remains are in its "Recommendations on the Handling of Human Remains in Museums and Collections". This includes all physical remains that can be attributed to the biological species Homo sapiens. In the anthology "Human remains in the depot", the scope of human remains becomes clear: naturally preserved bones and teeth; naturally preserved bodies and body parts with organic tissue (e.g. dry mummies, ice mummies, moor mummies, fat wax mummies); artificially prepared bones and artificially preserved bodies and body parts with organic tissue (e.g. Egyptian mummies), ethnographic exhibits from or with human remains, embalmed corpses, plastinates, dry and wet preparations, injection preparations, histological preparations, lightening preparations. DNA samples are also sometimes considered to be human remains. However, the definition of human remains is not clearly specified and is an object of debate.
Out of respect for human remains and because of the ethical issues involved, we do not show images of human remains in our exhibition. In this context, we value the concern of (possible) descendants as a moral frame of reference.  
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