New Guidelines for the Treatment of Human Remains

Human remains in museum collections must be treated with special sensitivity. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is one of many museums that have human remains among their holdings. The SPK has established basic principles for dealing with human remains and formalized them in guidelines.

Menschliche Gebeine aus der JungsteinzeitMuseum reconstruction of the grave of a woman belonging to the Neolithic Rössen culture (Rössen burial grounds, grave 16), 5th millennium BC, with original finds © bpk / Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, SMB / Herbert Kraft

The cultural collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) are quite extensive and include human remains. The nature of these remains varies greatly, from skeletal remains (for example, archaeological finds from grave sites, or ethnological objects such as bone flutes) to human hair or skin which, in some cultures, was incorporated into artifacts. In 2011, moreover, the SPK was entrusted with the anthropological collection (called the Luschan Collection) of the Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité.

It was against this backdrop that the SPK developed basic principles for the treatment of the human remains contained in their collections. They are formalized in guidelines for the care and custody of human remains, for research conducted on them, and for including them in collection exhibitions. The aim of the Foundation is to gradually clarify the origins of all human remains in their collections, in order to be able to make responsible decisions regarding their further treatment. In each case, the focus will be on finding a solution that is fair and respectful.

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