An illustrated scene of eight figures in preparation for death.

Human remains

Contact details

Phone: +44 (0)20 7323 8000

Department of Egypt and Sudan
The British Museum
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DG

The British Museum holds and cares for human remains from around the world.

Representing diverse cultures over thousands of years, this important collection is a unique record of the varied ways different societies have conceived of death and disposed of the remains of the dead.

Their display and study provide one of the most direct and insightful sources of information on past lives, human biology, different cultural approaches to death, burial practices and belief systems, including ideas about the afterlife.

A collection of essays, Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum, details the issues surrounding human remains in museum collections, offering possible solutions to the dilemmas relating to their curation, storage, access management and display:

Human remains at the Museum

Held in a number of departments for display and research, over 6,000 human remains are in the care of the Museum. The human remains are managed in a way that protects the collection for the benefit of present and future generations. Mindful of ethical obligations, the Museum ensures that the human remains held in its care are always treated and displayed with respect and dignity.

The worldwide context of the collection provides an opportunity to look at how past societies have conceived of death and disposed of the remains of the dead across cultures of vastly different times and places.

The study of the human remains in the collection also furthers our understanding of the past by advancing important research in fields such as archaeology, bioarchaeology and physical anthropology. Their analysis provides unique insights into past peoples and cultures.

Research

The scientific study of human remains from archaeological sites provides unique insights into ancient lives. Analysis of the human remains in the Museum's collection helps advance important research in fields such as archaeology, social anthropology, human biology, the history of disease, palaeoepidemiology, bioarchaeology, physical anthropology and genetics.

The information and insight gained through the archaeological and scientific analysis of human remains is ever-increasing, particularly as scientific methods improve and develop, all of which continues to inform our understanding of past societies and can then be shared with Museum visitors. This scientific analysis offers information that other archaeological sources usually do not provide, such as age-at-death, ancient diseases, diet, genetics and past burial practices.

In carrying out research on human remains in the collection, the Museum reminds researchers of their ethical obligations with regard to human remains. Researchers are expected to follow the relevant principles of the Museum's Human remains policy and the Code of practice.

Research

Apply for scientific study

The Museum recognises the importance of making the collection available to external researchers.

If you want to study any of the human remains in the Museum's collection, please contact the relevant department. If your proposed study involves detailed study, measurement or sampling of human remains, you may be requested to submit a detailed application form. This is in order to safeguard the collection and to ensure that all human remains are treated in a suitably respectful manner. All such requests are subject to a rigorous review process following a formal application procedure.

Find out how to apply for scientific study of the collection. 

Policy and governance