Department for Culture Media and Sport

human remains in UK institutions

The UK has a long tradition of excavating and collecting human remains for study and museum display and medical teaching.

Rights to human remains

Some remains were obtained in circumstances now considered unacceptable. For example, those acquired between 100 and 200 years ago from indigenous peoples under colonial rule.

Some groups now claim rights over some of these human remains, including genealogical descendants, cultural communities, custodians and the scientific community.

In 2004 the introduction of the Human Tissue Act allowed nine national museums to return human remains under 1,000 years old, where they consider it appropriate to do so.

In 2005, DCMS issued, on behalf of the museums sector, Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums which includes advice for museums on handling requests for the return of human remains.

Human Tissue Authority

The Human Tissue Authority provides guidance for institutions which have human tissue which is less than 100 years old in their collections. These places are required to hold a licence. The Human Tissue Authority website gives more information.

For further information on human remains visit the Cultural Property Advice website.