The Delicate Problem of Human Remains in Archaeology


  • Philippe Charlier Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, Département de la Recherche et de l’Enseignement, Paris; UVSQ / EA4498 Laboratoire DANTE, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France



museology, bioethics, medical anthropology, osteo-archaeology, restitution




The problem I am interested in is above all that of the biomedical management of human remains in archaeology, these ancient artifacts “unlike any other”, these “atypical patients”. In the following text, I will examine, with an interdisciplinary perspective (anthropological, philosophical and medical), how it is possible to work on human remains in archaeology, but also how to manage their storage after study. Working in archaeology is already a political problem (in the Greek sense of the word, i.e., it literally involves the city), and one could refer directly to Laurent Olivier’s work on the politics of archaeological excavations during the Third Reich and the spread of Nazi ideology based on excavation products and anthropological studies. But in addition, working on human remains can also pose political problems, and we paid the price in my team when we worked on Robespierre’s death mask (the reconstruction of the face having created a real scandal on the part of the French far left) but also when we worked on Henri IV’s head (its identification having considerably revived the historical clan quarrel between Orléans and Bourbon). Working on human remains is therefore anything but insignificant.



How to Cite

Charlier P. The Delicate Problem of Human Remains in Archaeology. Can. J. Bioeth 2019;2:206-9.