11 Feb 2020
Leeds Museums and Galleries is committed to the respectful care and management of not just Nesyamun, but all of the human remains in its collections.
The mummy of Nesyamun, a priest who lived in Egypt 3,000 years ago, forms a central part of Leeds Museums & Galleries engagement with audiences about the ancient world. The duty of care towards Nesyamun is one that LMG in its current form never asked for, as he was acquired and unwrapped nearly 200 years ago, but one we take very seriously. We have always been open and transparent about how Nesyamun was acquired and subsequently studied.
At Leeds Museums & Galleries all decisions around human remains are made by our human remains working group in accordance with our human remains policy. The policy in turn has been shaped by visitor consultation carried out in 2018 where we asked if museums should hold and use human remains, and if museums should allow photography of human remains (both overall results were ‘yes’). As with all human remains in our care, we also provide access for research if deemed appropriate by the human remains working group. We acknowledge that issues around what is ‘appropriate’ are complex and that a consensus regarding research on human remains will never be easily reached. In this case, Leeds Museums & Galleries decided that this research was scientifically relevant for exploring ways to connect with the past (and as such it was published in a peer-reviewed ‘Nature’ journal), and involved limited risk to Nesyamun himself. The research team was initially set up in 2013 and they approached Leeds Museums & Galleries in 2015, so the process took seven years. Leeds Museums & Galleries shared the research on social media and, although the feedback to the research has been mostly positive, we fully expected that critical questions would be asked around ethics and the treatment of the dead – and rightly so.
Although this study received a great deal of attention in the press, it should be noted that research is regularly carried out on human remains in museums. If this study shines a spotlight on discussions around research and decolonisation, and it leads to an ethical review, then it is a move that Leeds Museums & Galleries welcomes. It can only be a positive thing for the sector.
Leeds Museums & Galleries Human Remains Policy can be found here.