This collection includes current excavations, as well as excavations from the 1950s and from the Milton Keynes Archaeology unit from the 1970s to the 1990s.
When the collections came to the Museum in 2019, the number one priority was assessing and ameliorating the condition of the human remains within the collection.
Reburial is not a beneficial option for many collections due to the rapid deterioration that human remains go through - but how can museums ethically store these collections in a way that respects the human remains and also those who work with and around them?
At the Museum, the human remains, previously stored in brown paper bags and held together with string, were separated from the rest of the archaeology and placed into polyethylene bags on beds and pillows of acid free tissue paper. This way, the remains can be looked at without being touched or handled. Whereas the rest of the archaeology collection was packaged to save space and combine boxes together, the human remains were stored so that individuals were kept separate where possible. The human remains are also stored on a static rack in order to eliminate vibrations and movement which might affect the fragile nature of the remains.
Human remains are an incredibly important part of archaeology, and they hold so much information about the daily lives of individuals, but it is important to consider the feelings of people in the Museum (be it members of the public or volunteers and staff) when storing and displaying these collections.
It is not appropriate to force someone to see or be near human remains without their consent. Many culture and religions view human remains as bad luck or unclean, and personal beliefs and lived experiences may cause members of the public or those who work in museums to be uncomfortable being around human remains.
Museums are spaces of education, and should make efforts to accommodate people’s wellbeing. In order to account for this, the archaeology store has signs on all doors stating that there are human remains in the building. The racking which houses the human remains and the work room where researchers may access the human remains has another sign on it too. Human remains are not left out, nor visible to anyone walking past.
We are in the process of creating our Ancient Gallery which will exhibit the history of Milton Keynes from the dinosaurs to the 18th century. Human remains should only be displayed to the public if they serve a purpose.
There is nothing to be gained from displaying real human remains in this gallery which cannot be achieved from using replica bones. In this instance, 3D prints will be made of human remains using conservation safe material.