From Death, to Recovery, to Museums:

The Curious Lives of Human Remains
Professor Janet Monge

This course is co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, located at 33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia. The entrance for the course is at the east end of the building, next to the garage.


1.  Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - Definitions of Death
The definition of death has changed over the course of the last century and is now defined in the United States as whole brain death. But death is a process associated with aging and is the natural outcome of life. We will explore the definition of death and how it is applied to peoples in the present and past.

Suggested site visit - Woodlands Cemetery

2.  Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - Preparation of the Dead
Culture, and especially religious belief, determines what is an appropriate method of disposal of the human body. A cross-cultural and cross-time perspective gives us a broader view of the human experience concerning the meaning of death and of the afterlife.

3.  Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - Excavation of the Dead
A traditional part of archaeology, and now a part of forensic study, the exhumation and excavation of the dead, yields partially fleshed, mummified and human skeletal remains that can give insights into peoples of the past. In a series of case studies, constructed from collections at the Penn Museum, we will discuss the issues associated with the excavation, preservation and interpretation of people from the past.

4.  Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - Movement to Museums: The Philadelphia Experience
This week's session will highlight the Penn Museum's famous and infamous Samuel Morton Collection of crania collected in the middle of the 19th century. How the skulls were collected is an object of discussion and controversy. We will discuss topics including grave robbing and who owns the dead.

This class includes a tour of the Penn Museum's storage areas for human remains. Suggested site visit - the Mütter Museum.

5.  Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - The Laboratory Experience
What happens to human remains when they are in a museum and laboratory setting? What kinds of information can human remains yield? If museums returned all human remains, what is the future of the science of peoples of the past?

This class includes a tour of the Penn Museum's mummy artifact lab.

6.  Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - Current Controversies
Academic institutions are frequently asked to justify the retention of human skeletal materials. This session is designed to involve students in this lively discussion.

7.  Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - The Future of Human Remains in Museums

Museums around the world are being transformed by an open discussion of the function of museum in the modern world. Part of this discussion concerns an interest in, and possible repatriation of, human skeletal remains. Embedded in this discussion is the broader issue of "who owns the dead."

Recommended reading:

Bass, William and Jon Jefferson. Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales. Berkeley Trade, 2004.

Cassman, Vicki, Nancy Odegaard and Joseph Powell. Human Remains: Guide for Museums and Academic Institutions. Altamira Press, 2008.

Jenkins, Tiffany. Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority. Routledge Research in Museum Studies, 2010.

MacDonald, Helen. Human Remains: Dissection and Its Histories. Yale University Press, 2006.

Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.


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