Class discussion this week centered around the conflict between the need of the scientific community to study human remains and the care that must be exercised when dealing with the concerns of various ethnic groups whose ancestors are being studied. The study of human remains leads to wealth of information about humanity throughout history, but scientists must seek to treat the human remains with respect and dignity even as they conduct their research.
THE INHERENT VALUE OF HUMAN REMAINS
Walker argues value of human remains for research to “illuminate the processes of human adaptation” (Walker 9). The history of exploitation of various groups complicates the issue of the research. Walker notes that this oversimplification of the issue “is counterproductive for anyone seeking a solution that balances the concerns of the descendents against those of the scientific community” (13). He believes that human remains should be treated with respect and dignity (24).
A Wealth of Information : The value of these remains in dealt with in more detail in Larsen’s article, which outlines the amazing amount of information that science can derive from human remains, not only the diet and nutritional status of various groups, but about societal structure, the presence of diseases such as dental caries, treponematosis, TB, and leprosy (Larsen 123), and societal characteristics including “the consumption of marine and freshwater food, dietary access in relation to status, infant feeding and weaning patterns, residence, individual migration, and population movement” (122). But while the value of the study of human remains is clear, what is equally clear is the need for a sensitive and respectful manner in the conduction of that research.
Larsen, Clark Spencer. “Bio-archeology: the Lives and Lifestyles of Past People” Journal of Archeological Research, 10 (2002) 119-146. Print
Walker, Phillip. “Bio-archeological Ethics: A Historical Perspective on the Value of Human Remains” Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton, 2nd ed. 2008. Web. 26 March 2012