Past Events

The Practice and Ethics of Skeletal Excavation and Conservation [Deeper Digs]

The human skeletal remains curated within archaeological and museum collections belong to those who created the cultures that we seek to understand as archaeologists. Human and faunal remains recovered from archaeological excavations provide a wealth of information about past cultures, but also require the greatest care. The recovery, cleaning, and curation of bone often present one of the great challenges for archaeological projects, as an osteologist may not be on site. What is the best way to transport fragile materials to labs or to export them? How should they be stored until they can be analyzed, or over the long term? Should they be cleaned? Field labs, museums, and universities in remote locations are often only periodically monitored, can have extreme humidity or heat, be infested by insects or animals, lack financial support for collection maintenance, and/or be at risk due to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes. This seminar will describe techniques that osteologists have employed to address these problems as they have worked to curate and house skeletal collections from prehistory through the contemporary era in various sites. The examples will focus on Central America and the ethical and cultural considerations of modern populations.