“I Like to Keep my Archaeology Dead”. Alienation and Othering of the Past as an Ethical Problem

  • Stefan Schreiber Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum – Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Archäologie; Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Mainz, Germany http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1065-5003
  • Sabine Neumann Philipps-Universität Marburg, Marburg, Germany
  • Vera Egbers Freie Universität Berlin; Excellence Cluster “Topoi. The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations”, Berlin, Germany http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8290-6006
Keywords: epistemology, archaeology, human remains, subjectification, alienation, othering
Language(s): English


As archaeologists, we have to deal with the dead, and as David Clarke once said, we like to keep our archaeology dead. From an epistemological perspective, alienation from the dead seems almost inevitable; otherwise, we would only project today’s conditions onto the past. Therefore, the past must be, and must remain, a foreign country. These alienating processes have ethical implications, however, especially when it comes to the study of human remains. In this article, we analyze the structures within the scientific discipline of archaeology that normalize practices, such as the labeling of human bone material during excavations and the object-like display of skeletons in museums. We argue that archaeologists have an – often rejected – ethical responsibility towards subjects from the past. We, therefore, seek to open up a debate concerning alternative strategies for the treatment of the dead.

How to Cite
Schreiber S, Neumann S, Egbers V. “I Like to Keep my Archaeology Dead”. Alienation and Othering of the Past as an Ethical Problem. Can. J. Bioeth. 2019;2:88-96. https://doi.org/10.7202/1066466ar.