Photo: Scrabble tiles (© Maren74)

Towards an ethical handling framework for archaeological human bone material in Flanders

Even though there is a clear framework in Flanders today regarding burials and cremations (cemeteries decree) and archaeological excavations (immovable heritage decree), there is still a lack of clarity in this area about how to preserve, disclose and select archaeologically found human bone material. Thus, within this section of MEMOR, we want to develop to develop a clearer ethical framework.

We therefore map out the legal and (bio-)ethical frameworks currently in use in Flanders and Belgium regarding the handling of human remains. Besides the handling of bone material from archaeological contexts, this also involves questions around DNA extractions, isotope samples and intermediate steps in molecular analyses. We also study the ethical treatment of human remains abroad and thus place the Flemish situation in a wider a broader, international and scientific context. With this information we will talk to lawyers and ethicists in order to get a good view of the current Flemish situation, possible bottlenecks and solutions. Via PARCUM we also consult the recognized religions and philosophies about their attitudes towards the handling of human bone material.

We are working within this "ethical" section of MEMOR toward a proposal for a broadly supported scientific and ethical framework for dealing with human remains from archaeological excavations in Flanders, based on the inventory and on the dialogue between archaeologists, scientists, ethicists, and representatives of recognized religions and philosophies. This will result in a policy-level recommendation note and a handy roadmap for owners, managers, scientists, and people in the field.