Ethics and Standards

BABAO has been working hard to create a Code of Ethics and a Code of Practice which presents general guidelines for ethical practice in relation to the handling, storage and analysis of human remains from archaeological sites. These guidelines also cover aspects of decisions relating to retention, reburial and repatriation.  

The code of ethics is based upon the following principles: 

  • The generation of knowledge about past human lifeways using archaeological data is a worthy goal.  Human remains are our most direct source of evidence in this respect.  Their study is therefore central to our understanding of the human past
  • By virtue of their status as the remains of once living people, treatment of human remains requires ethical considerations over and above those that pertain to other classes of archaeological materials.
  • Human remains should always be treated with dignity and respect regardless of age or provenance.

  • Given the importance of human remains as a source of information about our past, osteoarchaeologists should work toward the long-term conservation of the osteoarchaeological record. 
  • Osteoarchaeologists should be committed to public education and promote the value of the scientific study of ancient human remains.

We very much recommend that all BABAO members read and take note of these very important documents. The Letter from the Chair of the Working Group sets out some context, and the Code of Ethics and Code of Practice contain clear information for your use. Note that these documents will be updated as and when appropriate.


Below are links to current standards, guidelines and legislation relating to the excavation, recording and treatment of human remains from archaeological sites and other contexts:

BABAO/ IFA Technical Paper Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains

EH/ BABAO Guidelines for producing assessments and reports on human remains from archaeological sites 

CofE/ English Heritage Guidance for Best Practice for Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England 

DCMS Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums 

The Human Tissue Act (2004)


Science and the Dead: A Guideline for the Destructive Sampling of Human Remains for Scientific Analysis.

Those responsible for the care of collections of archaeological human remains are increasingly being approached with requests from researchers for removal of bone or tooth samples for the purposes of scientific analyses, including DNA, isotope, radiocarbon dating and histological studies.  This guideline aims to provide a framework to help organisations in responding to such requests, taking into account legal, ethical and scientific considerations.  The guideline is published by APABE and is available as a free download from the APABE website:  http://www.archaeologyuk.org/apabe/