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gooch's avatar

Where do you draw the line on digging up bodies?

Asked by gooch (5734points) February 13th, 2009

I went to a museum and saw a mummy that had been removed from him burial chamber. What is the difference between this acient guy or displaying some random persons body from the 1600’s or even someone who died last year for all to look at in some museum display. When should we draw the line on digging up the dead?

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16 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

No relatives left to complain about it.

Dog's avatar

It is not just old mummies.
Evita Peron and a few others are still around above ground.

That being said the ability to learn from those long-since departed is the motivation for museum dead.

marinelife's avatar

I completely agree with you, Gooch. I could see scientists studying the ancient bodies in legitimate institutions for some period of time, but public display seems barbaric.

I personally drew the line at this: Bodies: The Exhibition. This for-profit Barnumesque show purporting to be scientific actually toured museums (paying them a pretty penny). The bodies were acquired from prisons and the idigent who had died in China. The dead did not give their consent in advance. I found the whole concept grotesque.

Dog's avatar

@Marina- the cadavers used were people who volunteered to become the art after death.

I would love to be part of it but am not yet willing to die.

wundayatta's avatar

Native Americans have a problem with archeologists digging up the bones of people they believe are their ancestors.

Jayne's avatar

I have no problems with the idea of disintering bodies in principle; rather, I simply think that caere must be rtaken to avoid harming the living. So, I would say that in most cases the cutoff point is simply after there are no relatives or friends still living who are close enough to the memory of the deceased that to unbury them might cause them pain; naturally, this point can only be guessed at. Of course, this doesn’t apply if those relatives have given consent.

marinelife's avatar

@Dog That is not true. They did not give permission nor did they volunteer.


“When the show’s owner, Premier Exhibits, first opened the display, it said the bodies were all unclaimed from a medical university in China.

Now, investigative reporter Brian Ross of ABC News says he’s getting a different story. His report will air on 20/20 Friday night.

ABC’s Ross says he actually went to China, where he found the bodies did not come from a medical college.

Instead, Ross says some of the bodies may have come from a doctor at the college, running his own outside company, that got bodies from the black market.

He showed his evidence to the president of Premier Exhibits.”

gooch's avatar

Would you like someone digging you up in maybe 100 years without permission to display you? That is why I personally will get cremated if I can get someone to do that for me.

Dog's avatar

@Marina- that was what our biology prof told us. She wanted to be part of the project.
Now I find it disturbing.

cyrusbond's avatar

I personally don’t dig up bodies…lol. I know what you meant. I’d say that if there is some honest archeological principle to be studied, then it’s kosher.

The “Bodies” exhibition is just a little creepy.

steelmarket's avatar

I leave that stuff to Gil Grissom and Ray Langston.

BCarlyle's avatar

To respond to the original question, I think there is value in digging up bodies of past cultures to learn about how their societies funtioned. The way that mummies were preserved help shed light on how egyptian and other cultures regarded death and the afterlife. For instance, I learned from a museum display in Guangzhou, China, how when a powerful ruler died all of his concubines were put to death at the same time so that they could “accompany” him in the afterlife. The preservation of these mummies is another piece that helps us understand the past.

As for the comment about the “Bodies” Exhibit, I don’t think anyone is advocating the illegitimate or fraudulent use of bodies of people that did not provide consent. However, those exhibits are extremely educational, especially for individuals that that are studying health-related sciences. The use of cadavers for medical, dental and anthropology students is also very important…

loser's avatar

I don’t do it anymore.

galileogirl's avatar

@Dog As it turns out in China they only asked for volunteers after they were dead. The most reliable sources have said they were outsiders, prisoners or family-less. There was really no reason to do this except the ghoul factor. If it was about education they could have made exhibits from artificial materials that look realistic.

That said, one of the first lesson in my World History class is prehistoric life and we discuss Utzi. When we look at Latin America we discuss the Juana, the Ice Maiden and the ethics of using humans for scientific study.

chyna's avatar

I draw the line at digging up bodies under the frizzer.

Jack79's avatar

Interesting point. We never tend to think of mummies as dead bodies, possibly because they are wrapped up. But I’ve also been to see Philip II’s grave, and you can see his bones. I think the culprit may be the assumption (when the first museums were built) that Christians have souls and their bodies should not be disturbed, as opposed to all them heathen pagans whose lives (and deaths) do not matter.
Even today we in the West may mourn for a few thousand victims on the Twin Towers, but not the millions of dead in the Sierra Leone civil war. Because you see all those people are black, and they live in Africa, and they have no clothes on, so who cares? Even a couple of hundred people getting killed in a plane crash or the recent wildfires in Australia matter more than the mass graves in Yugoslavia or Iraq (oh yeah, bet you didn’t know about those ones).
And of course your grandmother’s grave is a holy site where you’d reverently put flowers, after you’d driven there on that brand-new highway that goes straight through the Reservation and over some ancient burial mounds.
Respect for the dead is relative, and it has to do with how much value we place on the individual and their life. That’s why we’ll even buy and sell some ancient Egyptian or Aztec whose relatives are not even around to complain.

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