Bodies in the Museum

The presentation of art/artifacts in museums involve the art’s value, respect for the artist[s], and accessibility by the public, but how does this change when presenting subjects such as human remains? Everyone handles the subject of death differently which applies to how people handle seeing death as well, especially human remains. How can a museum handle the issue of presenting human remains? One interesting experience I have had for the display of human remains is of the bog bodies in the National Museum of Archaeology in Dublin, Ireland.

My expectations differed greatly than what I saw. I expected to see glass cases throughout the room with the bodies inside. However, there were tall painted cylindrical columns with information about the bodies interspersed throughout the room. These information panels on the outside of the columns told the viewer everything about the body itself, the history and also had a faint sketch of the body. If someone wanted to learn about the bog bodies but did not want to see the bodies themselves, this way of presentation benefited their interests. If one wanted to view the actual body, they had to enter the opening in the column which went down inside of the column to where the body was located.

"Bog Body" by Mark Healey

Bog Body” by markhealey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Before this visit I had never thought that the presentation of human remains in a museum may disturb some individuals but I think this way of presentation done by the National Museum of Archaeology was very sensitive and thoughtful for all visitors. It allowed those who wanted to see the bodies to see them but also hid the bodies away so those who did not want to see the bodies didn’t have to see them.

This sensitivity to presentation is also apparent in the Michael C. Carlos museum. The mummy that is on display is located in one of the side rooms so if a visitor does not want to see it they do not have to enter this offset room. The sensitivity to the presentation of deceased is an important aspect museums have to face when wanting to display human remains.

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