DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.


 No Win Situation: Ethics of Ancient Remain Ownership


                There are two sides to every story; but, how do you know which side to take? Granted instances like Batman vs. Joker and Luke Sky Walker vs. Dark Vader the villain and hero are easily identifiable. Though, sometimes choosing a side requires more thought: team Edward or team Jacob, Brangelina or Bennifer, archaeologists or Indigenous peoples’ heritage. In these cases, there is no “right” party. This article is meant to show how communicating respectfully and thoroughly investigating can create a common ground that represents the feelings of everyone involved.

                Ten years ago, in the basement of Tomografia Computada Sociedad del Estad in the city of Salta, seasoned radiologist Carlos Previgliano and his team use CT scans to examine the remains of three Incan child sacrifice’s; His investigation improves the understanding of Incan sacrificial rituals. However, the knowledge and data he acquires, through the forceful acquisition of the remains, corrupts the cultural heritage of the Incan people. Archeologists who disturb sacred resting places interfere with centuries-old tribal traditions. As humans, we thrive on discovery and innovation, but in some instances, we must ask ourselves whether the people matter more than the science.

                Currently, the three Incan children of Mount Llullaillaco sit in a freezer at the University of Salta, waiting for the next eager twenty-four-year-old anthropologist, whose, career idol is Temperance Brennen to examine them. Researchers treat these kids like lab rats when they are royalty, given the finest jewelry and delicacies their tribe can salvage. And why were these three preteens held in such high esteem? Their importance stems from their parents who are affluent tribal members and high-ranking officials. Previgliano discovery of fatty tissue and substantial bone density, proves the children are on well-balanced diets, which only high ranking members of society will be on during this time. The children’s background and health status can explain the vetting process in place when choosing an offering; only the wealthy and powerful can act as divine gifts to the mountain deities of Mountain Llullaillaco.

                Why does this matter? People are questioning the moral nature of displaying unethically acquired remains in museums, especially that of children. To curve the growing controversy, Intuitions that take part in remain exhibits, attempt to appease the feelings of the people the display represents. Exhibitioners communicate and collaborate with living relatives of the deceased, to create an exhibit that is culturally sensitive. Leading to the creation of a “PG version” of the exposition. Museums intentionally leave out information that indigenous people consider gruesome or offensive; Like if news outlets ask politician’s children to edit articles about their parents’ controversies, in both cases, the reader/museum visitor is not getting the whole truth. Places of higher learning have an obligation to uphold the integrity of their exhibitions, by providing the unedited, uncensored objective truth unhindered by political and cultural controversy.

                 Ancient remains are the only first-hand account scientists have of past tribal rituals. Though there is a second way to extract information about ancient community’s: through the stories of living tribal members. However, archaeologists rarely take advantage of this second source of intel because of the tension and mistrust that is built up by researchers and ancestors of the remains. Archaeologists excavation of sacred burial sites may give them a first-hand account of past events, but also corrupts their relationship with locals. Before Facebook timelines, oral storytelling was the only way people could pass down the stories of their ancestors. Archaeologists who disrespect the traditions of a community and forcefully take sacred objects, lose the opportunity to form a mutually beneficial relationship with these people.

                No matter where the remains end up, we either lose scientific or cultural value. Leaving the body with its ancestors builds a trust between archaeologists and locals, but also loses scientific evidence that only direct contact with the remains can provide. In every case of remain ownership, the court must consider several factors that alternate with each instance. However, by creating a dialogue between archaeologists, museum’s, local tribal members, and the public we can design a solution that ensures the happiness of all parties.




DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.