Shaping voids and building bridges: towards an ethic and legal framework and societal approach to Portuguese human identified skeletal collections (HISC)

Principal researcher: Francisca Alves Cardoso

Research group: Practices and Politics of Culture


Bioanthropology | Ethics | Legislation | Skeletons | Collections

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT)



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This project will contribute to the knowledge of the social impact of scientific practices in which human remains are used, and Human Identified Skeletal Collections (HISC) are built, by shaping the ethical and legal framework of Portuguese HISC. Alongside, it will address HISC curation and conservation issues: concerns extensive to human archaeological remains. The research questions will therefore focus on: a) What was/is the HISC ethical and legal framework?; b) What is the public perception, and opinion on the use of human remains  exhumed form modern cemeteries in science and academia? All whilst contributing to public knowledge on how human remains are used in disciplines such as anthropology and archaeology, and its importance for  scientific knowledge, building a bridge towards society while considering its moral implications, and discuss HISC use in future scientific studies. To accomplish these aims an interdisciplinary approach and various sources (documental Archives, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires) will be used. During project research caution will be exerted as to take into consideration HISC institutions, as well as to safeguard HISC integrity as a research and training patrimony of international reference. The major outcomes will comprise a document of "good practices" of HISC and a code of ethics associated with their curation. Additionally, a proposal of law to regulate HISC will be drafted to be submitted to Portuguese parliament groups. Until recently FAC research has focused on the use of HISC to access past populations' behavior and health. This project will be the first of its kind in Portugal, standing opposite anthropological and archaeological objectification of human remains used to reconstruct past human health and behavior and biological profiles (sex and age at death assessment).