CEU 20th Anniversary Postdoctoral Fellowship: To Make Dead Bodies Talk
At the core of human existence, the bio-archaeological heritage in the form of historical human remains can be considered a repository of knowledge about the ways people interact with both the natural and social constructed world. Thus, the dead make their presence felt in a variety of academic, religious, ethical and social contexts all of which have their justifications and contradictions. Human bodies and how they were treated during life and after death are source material for physical anthropology and a challenge for scholars and the societies they operate in. Physical anthropological research and policies toward bio-archaeological heritage have themselves a variety of social and religious implications. Information gleaned about the human condition from our dead ancestors must be weighed against serious non academic factors in a changing world. Modern concepts of respect for the dead impact the research practices of scholars and the management of heritage institutions.
Despite this, a critical over-review of physical anthropology has never been attempted, especially in light of more recent developments in the field (such as DNA and heavy isotope sampling). The impact of such results on long-held traditional historical interpretations is also a major issue. When such biological data is rigorously interpreted within its cultural-historical context it can be at the expense of dear and long-held beliefs. The proposed interdisciplinary research project wants to confront the policy and heritage issues arising when the search for knowledge sits uncomfortably with what society regards as right and good. The project is based on a network of physical anthropologists, bio-ethic experts, scholars of religious studies and heritage specialist and aims at collecting academic research results, policy protocols, legal regulations, research protocols and guidelines as a repository for working out best-practice reference materials.
Related research questions of the project:
- Which historical human remains are appropriate for academic study because they are distant enough in time and tradition from people in the present?
- What should scholars be able to excavate in course of archaeological investigations?
- How should human remains be studied and who should be allowed access to this sensitive data?
- When is it legitimate to display the dead in exhibitions in the name of public education? Most importantly, what are the main ethical questions in this context?
- Is there an ethical case to be made for re-burial and thus the potential loss of important data about long-term multi-cultural attitudes toward death and dying as well as the biological impacts of natural and social environments on human beings?