Ownership of Human Remains

TitleOwnership of Human Remains
Publication TypeCase Study
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsLadenson, R
Corporate Authorsof Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions, IIT
Date Published02/1996
PublisherCenter for the Study of Ethics in the Professions, Illinois Institute of Technology
Publication Languageeng
AbstractArchaeologist Rob Bonnicksen has developed a technique for recovering at an archaeological site ancient human hairs shed thousands of years ago. The hairs recovered under this technique are extremely valuable for archaeological research because they contain enough DNA to help track early human migrations. After Bonnicksen found hairs at an archaeological site in southwestern Montana, which had been an ancient burial ground, the Native American tribes, on whose reservation the site was located, filed a request that the hairs be turned over to them under the 1990 Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Mr Bonnicksen takes the position that the hair he found was naturally shed, and that NAGPRA should be interpreted only to cover human remains in burials. The Native American tribes, however, view human hair as remains. "In their culture, hair is very sacred," said Gray Smith, an archaeologist for the Federal Bureau of Land Management in Montana. From a moral standpoint, who has a right to the hair, Mr. Bonnicksen or the Native Americans? In either case, justify your position.
NotesCase from the February 24, 1996 Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl. Copyright Robert Ladenson, Center for the Study of Ethics at the Illinois Institute of Technology, 1996.
Full Text