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UCL is set to audit the ancestral remains in its collections

Publication date: Feb 23, 2006 4:49:26 PM

Calls by indigenous groups for greater transparency surrounding human remains held in UK collections are being addressed by University College London (UCL).

Having conducted an initial audit of remains in its collections, UCL is hoping to lead the way in allowing potential claimants to have access to records.

The move comes as the consultation period comes to a close for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Working Group on Human Remains. Set up in response to discussions between Australian Prime Minster, John Howard and Tony Blair, the Working Group concluded that greater efforts must be made to repatriate human remains to Australian indigenous communities. Yet research by the Working Group found that surprisingly little is known about the extent of collections of human remains in English museums and other collections.

The ‘Scoping survey of pre-1948 human remains in UCL collections’, which is published today, has catalogued 730 items that include non-European human remains from Australia, Africa, New Zealand, Tibet, the Andaman Islands, North America, India and Asia.

Efforts will now focus on producing a comprehensive electronic catalogue and university wide policy by June 2005.

Sally MacDonald, of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology and member of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Working Group on Human Remains, says:

“Some museums have expressed concerns that if they are open about what human remains are held in collections it will open the floodgates to claimants.

“Much can be learnt about human origins and evolution, and the spread and development of disease by studying human remains. But we recognise also the special connection that indigenous people have with ancestral remains, especially where there are living descendents.”

“UCL wants to approach this debate in an open way in the hope that dialogue will lead to productive relationships and collaborations on further research.”

Notes to editor

A copy of the ‘Scoping survey of pre-1948 human remains in UCL collections’ can be accessed at:
http://www.museum.ucl.ac.uk/Articles/ReportonHumanRemainsatUCL.aspx

For further information please contact

Judith H Moore
University College London press office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 7678
Mobile: +44 (0)77333 07596
Email: judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk