New Update!

Updated guidelines to the standards for recording human remains

Piers D Mitchell and Megan Brickley, 2017, ISBN 978-0-948393-27-3 Digital and hardcopy available - please also refer to the 2004 Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains available below.

A much longer extended document, along with a full bibliography and more images, for chapter 11 'Guidance on recording palaeopathology (abnormal variation)' by Charlotte Roberts is available at (link is external), or can be sent as a pdf (by contacting

Code of Ethics, Code of Practice and Guidance Document on Digital Imaging 

BABAO has been working hard to update a Code of Ethics and a Code of Practice in 2019, based on earlier editions prepared in 2010. These present general guidelines for ethical practice in relation to the handling, storage and analysis of human remains from archaeological sites. BABAO also recognises the ethical issues surrounding 2D and 3D digital imaging of human remains and developed a new Guidance Document on Digital Imaging with recommendations for best practice. These may be downloaded as .pdf files:

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:

Statement on the Sale of Human Remains

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

Updated guidelines to the standards for recording human remains

EH/ BABAO The Role of the Human Osteologist in an Archaeological Fieldwork Project

BABAO Advice and guidance for accessing collections of human remains in the UK

APABE Guidance for Best Practice for Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England (second edition)

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: