Peter Ucko

University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, England.
This number of the World Archaeological Bulletin has a limited aim – it is preparatory to the publication of a book within the One World Archaeology series. Its primary aim is to provide the reader with the reasons why human skeletal remains have been, and continue to be, studied by archaeologists, physica1 anthropologists and human biologists; it also provides information about where to go to find out more about this subject. It documents how English collections of human remains have been acquired and have become what they are today. In this WAB England is taken as the prime example; similar collections exist in other parts of the UK, Europe, and the world. Their histories and the nature of their holdings will form the contents of the projected book.

In the past the World Archaeological Congress has supported genuine requests for the return of human skeletal material to the countries and localities of their origin. Now, many organisations exist in, at least, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to promote such requests. The World Archaeological Congress has therefore resolved to confine its activities (with regard to the human remains from the above countries) to assuring that at their present whereabouts are known to the public. It is up to the institutions concerned to decide for themselves how they will react and respond to any requests for repatriation of such museum or collection holdings. The World Archaeological Congress has also resolved to tell its Members, at this time, of the importance of collections of human skeletal remains for the answers to many of the questions posed by anatomical, anthropological, forensic, cultural and archaeological investigation.

The proposed One World Archaeology book will correct one of the main deficiencies of this number of WAB, namely its exclusive coverage of human re mains from certain parts of the world only. Everyone needs to be aware that at the main holdings of human remains in UK and European museums are primarily of Europeans. Constraints of time and space have forced on us the current restricted coverage in this Bulletin to only certain non-European parts of the world (e.g. omitting the “Bushmen” of southern Africa); so also has the lack of cooperation of some museum/collection directors.

Those responsible for collections of human remains in England vary greatly in their response to the suggestion that the details of their holdings should be made public. Most exhibit extreme defensiveness in discussing their holdings; almost all admit that their collections are badly catalogued and that they are not able to say definitively whether or not their catalogues match their actual holdings. This number of WAB is, therefore, based solely on information given in accession registers, catalogues, published articles and published books: this WAB has not attempted to update the ascription of age or gender to the remains. Those responsible for each museum or collection mentioned in the following pages have been given the opportunity to correct any of the lists published here; some (for example, The Natural History Museum, London) have chosen to determine if the individual remains indeed remain part of their collections or museums, while others have checked our information against their catalogue entries. In both such cases, where items cannot be traced at this time, we have not included them within the following museum lists; where there has been no cooperation from a museum or collection, the following catalogues list all of the specimens which are recorded in the literature as having be en consigned to these collections.

We have attempted to keep the terminology and language of this Bulletin as straightforward as possible. We are aware that many of its readers may not be scientists, and will therefore be unfamiliar with anatomical, chemical or scientific terms; the authors who have contributed to this WAB have, as far as possible, explained these in non-technical ways.

The World Archaeological Congress entrusted me with the editing of this number of WAB because of its focus on England, but also because I have in the past published articles on the archaeological significance of skeletal remains and I have made use of some of the techniques which are described below (e.g. Ucko 1964,1965,1967). Our purpose will have been achieved if this WAB promotes a better understanding of why the study of human (particularly skeletal) remains is so central to much archaeological, anthropological, forensic science and practice.

It was agreed that I would complete the editing of the Bulletin before its contents were communicated for comment to the representatives of indigenous peoples on the Congress’ Executive; in the event no comments were received from them. This allowed me, at the last moment, to include a re port on an extraordinary recent episode concerning the stuffed remains of an African male displayed in a Spanish museum.


Ucko, P.J. (with Morse, D. & D. R. Brothwell) 1964. Tuberculosis in Ancient Egypt, The American Review of Respiratory Diseases 90: 524-541.

Ucko, P. J. 1965. Anthropomorphic Ivory Figurines from Egypt, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 95: 214-239.

Ucko, P. J. (with Berry, A. C. & R. J. Berry) 1967. Genetical Change in Ancient Egypt, Man 2 (4): 551-568.