HEA: Human Remains

Last week I attended a workshop ‘Using human remains in teaching and practicing archaeology: Intercultural perspectives’ at Bradford University. This was a follow-on workshop from last year’s ‘Using human remains in teaching archaeology’ at Manchester University. These workshops are run by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and are free to attend. Free. FREE!

The sessions covered legislation relevant to teaching with human remains (opposed to just excavating), research into experiences with the media when human remains are involved in a story, the issues brought up when displaying of human remains in museums, different challenges faced when teaching diverse student groups with human remains, the ability to use human remains to inspire and engage both in an academic and public setting, and the student experience of learning with human remains.

We also had a chance to play around with some new 3D scanning, modelling, and printing technology that is allowing the incorporation of virtual technologies into teaching (and is just mega futuristic and ZOMGZ so amazing).

Back to the Future

It was a whole day workshop (you can see the schedule in the link above), but I just thought that I’d share a few thoughts on the day. The talks given by the invited speakers were brilliant. They covered a diverse range of topics and importantly were based out of personal experiences. The opportunity to sit in a room with professionals and students from different institutions, organisations, employers, and – this is key – backgrounds, leads to some fantastic discussions and debates.

Personally I think this is what I find most useful about these sessions. Although I have worked for various different organisations and companies and studied at different insitutes and universities (in my albeit relatively short time when compared to others in the field) , it can still be too easy to get used to approaching the research, learning, and teaching with human remains in a particular manner. The sessions throughout the day allow for expanding beyond best practice – as in a lot of situations there is no one single best practice but instead many different alternative practices. This was especially apparent when we were covering topics such as online media and public outreach, which are ever expanding areas of our remits.

In a way the workshop was like a slightly more formalised version of the conversations that spring out of conference sessions, but afterwards in the pub. Which, let’s be honest, is when some of the most exciting stuff happens… academically speaking, of course.


And now, of course, I know things like: the great quote ‘the buriall of the cadaver (that is, caro data vermibus) is nullius in bonis’ (a corpse is flesh for the worms and belongs to the ground) is the basis of the common law that there is no proprety in a corpse (although we did actually come around to questioning this a little later). Most osteo/archaeo/logists dislike the Daily Mail (but still agree to have their research featured as a necessary evil)*; the public will almost always ask, “Is it real?”; gloves will help people get over a lot of issues surrounding handling human or animal remains (even if it’s just a placebo effect); everyone is in agreement that human remains are just super fascinating; but the vast majority of people are disconnected from death (but are curious to connect).

Oh, and also, you’re not supposed to post human remains, so “archaeological samples” it is…

I highly recommend you check out the HEA workshops in the future.

*This can possibly be expanded to researchers of any subject.

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