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Stewardship of Human Remains

Kelsey Museum Guidelines for Stewardship of Human Remains

The Kelsey Museum’s mission is to advance understanding and appreciation of the ancient Mediterranean world through our collections, research, exhibitions, and fieldwork. The museum’s collection includes ancient human remains from a range of cultures and regions, including Egyptian mummies, skeletal remains from University of Michigan excavations in Egypt and Iraq, cremation remains from excavations in Iraq as well as Roman-era cremation remains without archaeological context, and a few other isolated examples of human remains recovered through excavation or acquired through early donation or purchase. In all, 31 accession numbers are assigned to human remains in the collection (although the number of individuals represented in these remains is larger). The human remains held within our collection have the potential to provide direct evidence about ancient approaches to death, including burial practices and religious beliefs. They may also contribute to research in epidemiology, genetics, and the history of disease and medicine. But we must remain mindful that these were once living human beings.

Human remains are entitled to a high level of dignity and respect, and their stewardship at the Kelsey follows two guiding principles: respect for the person and the integrity of their remains and respect for the current and future research potential of the remains. All requests for access to human remains held in the museum’s collection, including requests by Kelsey staff and curators, must be reviewed and approved by the museum’s oversight committee for stewardship of human remains.

Below, we provide basic information about access to and research with human remains at the Kelsey Museum.

For visitors: The linen-wrapped mummy of a child is present in the Dynastic Egyptian section of the William E. Upjohn Wing, in a low-lit area that recreates a cave tomb. In addition, human remains may be in the galleries in temporary exhibitions.

For teaching faculty: If you wish to use human remains for teaching, please be aware that the museum approves such requests only when direct access is central to the course goals. Requests should be made to the Kelsey Museum’s director of education, following the six-week timeline for all class-use requests.

For researchers: Research access may be requested through the museum’s collections management department. Sampling requests may be made using the posted form, but please be aware that the Kelsey rarely approves requests for destructive sampling of human remains.

For field archaeologists: Kelsey Museum field projects may not enter into custodial agreements for human remains on the museum’s behalf, unless such agreements are formally reviewed and approved by the museum’s curators, its Human Remains Stewardship and Executive Committees, and the University of Michigan’s Office of General Counsel (OGC).


Note: The Kelsey does not house Indigenous American remains. Please refer to the Policies and Procedures for the University of Michigan’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Collections.