For scientific and educational purposes only

The National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) has in its care human remains from all areas covered by its collection. Most of the human remains in the Museum’s collection are stored in its warehouse. They are available only for scientific purposes because these remains contain information about social and funerary aspects, origin, sickness, health and diet. The museum realizes that these are the remains of individuals from the past that also hold meaning for contemporary societies, which means that they must be cared for properly.

Why does the National Museum of Antiquities display human remains?

The National Museum of Antiquities considers it important to present historical stories, not just about the lives of the deceased, but also about their deaths and the treatment of the bodies. At times, the Museum will highlight the ethical aspects of the collection through presentations or activities. Caring for and displaying human remains and the issues surrounding their provenance is part of that.

How does the National Museum of Antiquities display human remains?

The National Museum of Antiquities follows the Ethical Code for Museums, which sets out the professional standards that must be observed when displaying human remains. Such remains must be treated with due care and respect for human dignity. The museum realizes that opinions on this subject may differ. Human remains are only displayed if doing so offers relevant scientific or educational information. Sensationalism is avoided at all times.

  • The museum understands that not everyone may agree with these choices. Should you have any questions or comments regarding this subject, please contact us at .

What is the provenance of the human remains in the National Museum of Antiquities?

The human remains in the care of the National Museum of Antiquities comprise cremated remains, partial and complete human skeletons and embalmed bodies. All of these remains predate the year 1700. The countries of origin of nearly all the human remains are known, as well as the manner in which they ended up at the museum.

In the past, human remains were not always collected for scientific or educational purposes or within currently endorsed scientific frameworks. The National Museum of Antiquities explicitly distances itself from racial, racist and colonial ideologies. The museum considers it a duty to continue investigating the provenance of items in its collection, including human remains. If the provenance of any human remains is in doubt, the National Museum of Antiquities will not exhibit them. This is in accordance with a 2007 ruling by the Ethical Code Committee. The museum will then cooperate with the country or area from which the remains originate to determine whether the remains should remain in the Museum, be re-interred or repatriated.

How does the National Museum of Antiquities handle visual materials showing human remains?

The National Museum of Antiquities is cautious with regard to the depiction of human remains in its own online and printed media. Photos of human remains or parts thereof may be used within certain scientific and educational contexts, which the Museum will take into account when considering requests for such from an individual or organization prior to deciding whether or not to grant the request.