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Society Intervenes to Stop the Sale of Human Remains at an Edinburgh Auction House

15th March 2021 | Categories: Uncategorised

“You are talking about part of a human body, a person, someone’s son or daughter and it should be treated with respect.” – Dr Simon Gilmour, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

Late on Thursday 4 March, the Society was made aware that a human skull was set to be sold at an Edinburgh auction house on Saturday morning. The Society, as well as other colleagues in the Scottish heritage sector, contacted Ramsay Cornish Auctioneers and Valuers to request the skull’s removal from the auction.

The Society stands with the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO), who believe that the sale of human remains is unethical (you can read more about their work here) and we strongly agree that it is wrong to commodify people as objects.

We made the case known to our followers on social media and were overwhelmed with their messages of support on our stance. Soon afterwards, we were pleased to be told by Ramsay Cornish that the human skull had been removed from sale and would not appear in the auction the following day.

All staff and Trustees would like to extend their gratitude to everyone who helped spread the word on social media. We have also formally thanked Ramsay Cornish for hearing our concerns and taking down the lot swiftly.

You can read more about the incident and why we got involved online in The Scotsman, or listen to the Director discuss the case along with Professor of Ethics, Dr Piers Benn, on BBC Radio Scotland here (segment starts at 1:52:00).

We intend to facilitate a wider conversation with auction houses, heritage organisations and policy makers on this issue with the aim of closing the loophole in Scottish law which currently makes it legal to sell human remains for profit.

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