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Approval and public opinion

With the decision to autopsy a mummy made and a subject chosen, the project entered a new phase that moved them from surveying the collection to a much more focussed, intensive study of an ancient individual.

As this stage would involve the destructive analysis of an ancient artefact, the team needed to ensure that they obtained the correct permission.

Getting approval to unwrap a mummy


In the time since the autopsy of Mummy 1770, ethical considerations for such research have changed significantly. Formal ethical approval processes would now be required, for example.

Concepts of ownership of ancient artefacts have also changed, with more of an emphasis today on the idea of museums acting as a guardian rather than an owner, with their role being to take care of their collections for the future.

The ethics of archaeological science is a complex area of study, and one without clear answers. Given its importance to the subject of archaeological science, we will soon be producing learning materials that will help you to understand the different sides of the debate and allow you to come to your own conclusions about research involving ancient human remains, and to understand the concerns of both sides of the debate.

Public interest in the autopsy of Mummy 1770


Public interest in mummies is certainly nothing new – the unrolling invitation on the last page is dated 1850! Although today it would be possible to film an event like the study of Mummy 1770 in a quite unobtrusive way with small cameras capable of recording high quality footage, in the 1970’s the presence of the press and film crews was much more obvious.

These resources are available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (CC BY-NC-SA)