SUBKEYNOTE: Ancient History - 2.2A
An Ethical Conundrum? Egyptian Mummified Human Remains in Australia
Dr Melanie Pitkin (Chau Chak Wing Museum)
The decision to display (or not) Egyptian mummified human remains has often exclusively resided with museum professionals and their reference to vague international guidelines (especially ICOM’s Code of Ethics). This has resulted with wide reaching approaches to their so-called ‘ethical’ display – from showcasing complete, unwrapped and wrapped mummified human remains through to individual body parts, interactive digital CT scans or refusing to display any mummified human remains at all. But in taking this approach we are neglecting the voices of two of the museum’s most important stakeholders – its audiences and source communities.
In this session, Melanie will share the latest findings from museum visitor and community consultation work being undertaken at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, in collaboration with colleagues at Macquarie University and University College London. The session will explore the perspectives of researcher, museum visitor, modern Egyptian people, and museum professionals to what constitutes the ethical care, treatment, interpretation and display of Egyptian mummified human remains, especially in an Australian context. The session will also look at the semantics of referring to the ancient Egyptian dead, the purpose of mummification and ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, past colonial practices and Victorian era collecting, methods and results of modern scientific analysis and issues surrounding the restitution of mummified human remains.
Melanie Pitkin is Senior Curator of the Nicholson Collection of Antiquities at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney. She has more than 15 years of experience working in museums in Australia and the UK and providing support to colleagues at museums in Egypt. Melanie holds a PhD in Egyptology from Macquarie University, a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Sydney, and an honours degree in Ancient History, also from Macquarie University. Prior to joining the Museum in February 2022, Melanie worked as a Research Associate (Egyptian Antiquities) at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, playing a key role in the Museum’s cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research into its ancient Egyptian coffins. Prior to this she worked for more than a decade at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney. Melanie is currently leading a number of important research projects at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, including an evaluation of the care, treatment, interpretation and display of human remains in its collection, as well as an ongoing community engagement initiative with the Egyptian diaspora in Australia.
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