The SVT (a Swedish television channel) program Uppdrag Granskning (an investigate journalistic documentary show) will concentrate on culture this fall, in four TV specials. One of these specials seems interesting as it concerns human remains at museums.
According to an article in the Swedish newspaper GP (Gothenburg post) the first show is about “the over 1000 dead Scanians (people living in Scania, a province in southern Sweden) that are sorted into boxes at Lund Museum (I am curios if it concerns Lund University Historic museum or the museum Kulturen or perhaps another museum). Who are they and why are they kept there? How did the skeletons end up at the museum? The journalist (Gellert Tamas) will also look up some of the dead relatives.” (My translation)
I don’t know much about the journalist except that he is a journalist. According to Wikipedia (in Swedish) he has written about identity, ethnicity and refugee children among other things. And questions concerning identity and ethnicity are connected to these issues, so why call them 1000 Scanians, most of them probably are from a time before there were a Scania, some of them were probably Danish and some Swedish or from other places in Europe. Questions as who were they and for what purpose they are being kept are relevant, and within in these questions are several interesting ones concerning archaeological sciences, osteology, science history and ethics. Why do we keep the dead on shelves? Should we exhibit them? Do we handle the in an ethical way? Who are to determine the ethics? The last question is intriguing, it concerns identification and implies that at least some of the skeletons at Lunds Museum are either of a more recent date and coming from prisoners, hospital collections etc or from graveyards with headstones. How would you react if you knew that your forefather was part of a museum collection? (I know I would be proud – but that’s me)
This might very well be a good show, and I hope so, I will most certainly see it, though I fear that it will be less about science and ethics and more about shock value, though please prove me wrong.