Visitors in the Great Court

Human Remains: Policy and governance

Contact us

For further information on any of these claims please contact collectionenquiries@britishmuseum.org

The British Museum has developed a policy with regard to the human remains in its collection.

It follows the recommendations of the Code of Practice published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in October 2005. The DCMS Code of Practice was itself developed to provide guidance to museums in relation to the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 2004.

The Policy

While the Human Tissue Act 2004 gave the Trustees of the British Museum the power to deaccession human remains, the Trustees’ primary legal duty is to safeguard the Museum’s collection for the benefit of present and future generations. This policy sets out the circumstances in which the Trustees may consider a request for the deaccession and transfer of human remains; and gives guidance on the procedures to be followed by those seeking to submit a claim for the return of human remains in the British Museum collection that are less than one thousand years old to a community of origin.

The policy also outlines the principles governing the respectful and lawful holding, display, study and care of human remains in the British Museum’s collection.

Claims on Human Remains in the British Museum

From 1995 until the passing of the Human Tissue Act into law, there were six approaches to the British Museum from organisations making claims against human remains in the Museum collection.

November 1997
Two cremation ash bundles from Tasmania
by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre

1997-98
Human skull
by the Haida Nation band council

November 1998
Maori Tatooed heads (mokomokai)
by the Te Papa/Museum of New Zealand 

August 2001
Two cremation ash bundles from Tasmania
by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (repeat request)    

December 2001
Australian human remains
by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC – defunct Australian government agency)     

May 2002
Two cremation ash bundles from Tasmania
by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (repeat request)

Further claims

Since the relevant section 47 of the Human Tissue Act 2004 came into force in 2005, the Museum has received two approaches which have been considered by Trustees, in accordance with the Trustees’ Human Remains policy.

July 2005
Two cremation ash bundles from Tasmania
by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre in association with the Australian government         

May 2011
Two modified skulls
by the Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners in association with the Australian government