I have been thinking a little more about what to do about human remains in museums.
I claim no great ethical insights, but the experience of dealing with aboriginal remains in Australia may provide a baseline of good practice.
For example, the return and reburial of the remains of Mungo man, and a second, more difficult case where blood and tissue samples were taken, sometimes in questionable circumstances, from members of aboriginal communities.
And, quite clearly, a return to community was the most appropriate response given the cultural beliefs of community members.
This brings us full circle – we are treating the remains with the respect that original people who buried the dead would have expected of themselves.
Now just suppose that Mungo man’s remains had been through a 3D scanner prior to return. The images, the data are simply ones and zeroes sitting on a server somewhere.
Yes, they can be used to create 3D images of the remains, and print copies of the remains, but they themselves are not the remains.
Should these files also be deleted?
Equally, if we consider our dead Anglo Saxon, is it as distasteful to display a 3D printed copy of the skeleton as the skeleton itself?
One part of me says not, provided we treat the original skeleton respectfully, and another part wonders if we would simply be doing it for entertainment.
I have no answers. I am not an ethicist, but the appearance of new technologies such as 3D scanning does seem to change things somewhat