Museums Confront the Skeletons in Their Closets

25 May 2013 12:40 PM | Anonymous

Museums Confront the Skeletons in Their Closets

BERLIN undefined Rows of gaptoothed human skulls and formaldehyde-soaked brains stock the Museum of Medical History here, where the popular exhibition “Beneath the Skin” can be so grim that visitors will occasionally swoon to the cold stone floor.

For more than a century, the museum has exhibited assorted limbs, bones, tubercular lungs and fetuses, all in the name of science and enlightenment. Yet lately the curators are re-evaluating the principles that govern their displays as they confront a growing debate over what cultural organizations should be doing to preserve the dignity of the dead.

Many of the world’s grand museums are hearing increasing demands for the return of human remains from former colonies or conquered peoples. Some are giving back bones and skulls that were once viewed as exotic trinkets and were traded by native peoples for calico or plundered in the late 1800s by scientists exploring racial differences.

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