Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD) has completed the first major edition of its Your Local Museum database, which brings together records of ancient human remains held in more than 300 museums.
Each entry records how many ancestral remains the museum has in its collection, whether any are on display and what policies the museum may have for their care.
The resource is open for anyone to use and can be maintained by museums themselves through the HAD website, or via the organisation’s team. HAD uses the term “ancestors” rather than human remains in order to emphasise that human tissue, such as bones, skulls and cremated ash, belonged to individual people who may be ancient relatives of Britain’s modern-day population.
HAD was founded in 2004 to advocate for the respectful treatment of the bodies of the UK’s ancient dead and their related funereal artefacts, usually in the context of archaeological excavations and subsequent storage or display.
The new online database, which has been 14 years in the making, was created with the aim of understanding the scale of ancestral remains stored in British museums and allowing anyone to discover what is held at their own local museum.
In a statement the organisation said: “HAD would like to take this opportunity to thank all those museums, and their busy staff, for providing the responses that made compiling this database possible over the last 14 years. It is a credit to the museum profession that so many obviously care deeply about the ancestors in their care.”
The founder of HAD, Emma Restall Orr, said: “Whether the subject of scientific research, on display in museums, or kept in storage boxes, the physical remains of our ancestors deserve respect.
“Museums are increasingly struggling with a lack of funding which makes the situation more complex. This database is an invaluable resource for all those who have an interest in those who have lived in these lands in years gone by.”
Future editions of the Your Local Museum database will focus on completing the list of museums that hold ancestral remains, and enriching the information available on displays, storage and best practice.
For further details and access to the database visit HAD’s website.