Identified skeletal collections are widely used to test methods to assess demographic profiles, patterns of health, activity and behaviour. The aim of this session is to discuss their history and social significance, curatorial and ethical issues and use across social and biological disciplines.
Identified skeletal collections, i.e. collections composed of named individuals (whether complete or partial remains), exist in many countries. Their histories vary from recent cemetery clearances, donations, private collections, to archaeologically excavated skeletons with name plates, and even skeletons excavated in the context of war crimes, dictatorships, and politically repressive regimes. These skeletons are being increasingly transformed into means for developing methods to assess age-at-death, sex, diseases and migration patterns, and themes in human evolution. These methods are then applied within social and cultural sciences as well as medical and forensic disciplines. This session aims to bring together the variety of disciplines that use identified skeletal collections as subjects/objects in their research, and to promote discussion surrounding all aspects of their existence including: • Testing ethnographical and osteological methods: their use and limitations • History: how does their history affect their use and does it raise specific social, curatorial or ethical issues? • Society: their importance for health, well-being and society • Curation: do identified skeletal collections raise specific curatorial issues? • Ethics: how can identified skeletal collections be justified in an era of repatriation and reburial?