Monday, June 20, 2011

Displaying Human Remains

Here we have the British Museum's display of a first dynasty burial ca. 3000 bc the museums site picture shows the skeleton inside the box which makes me wonder if perhaps that's where it should be? True the display outside the box is very interesting but perhaps the display should posses a photograph of the current presented image and the skeleton with it's equipment should be placed back in it's box with dignity and be seen through the missing slat as the museum's current online photograph displays?

The issue was explored particularly a year or two ago but the issue of the presentation of ancient human remains is yet always going to be controversial though this is probably something to which the answers lye in grey areas. This may well be true of mummies like the unknown late period woman in the museums public website display in which is naked, perhaps not what she herself may have wanted.

Certainly the pre dynastic mummy referred in the museum as "Ginger" is another example of a display perhaps not what the man represented would have wanted for his earthly remains. So the question becomes how much does a persons values play when they are represented in a museums display? How can the museum display be honest when it potentially violates the wishes and values of the deceased?

How much of this is deceptive museology or fragmentary display which violates human dignity and how much is the desire for the viewer to be thrilled? Of the mummy of "Ginger" it must be acknowledged that similar displays exist in museums all over the world. I myself particularly like the pre dynastic burial in Chicago's Field museum which is still almost completely enshrouded.

How does this person rank as a humanitarian display, the mummy is not exposed and appears to be with much of it's funerary equipment and is this glass display case a suitable tomb for this individual? The answers can probably not be ever fixed in stone though I have to wonder how much we view human remains within a context of what is considered the norm rather than by the values once held by those displays long dead.

Photo's Courtesy: Michael Harding

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