Legacies of Violence and Complicity ~ Current Policies and Guidelines

Sunday, Apr 25, 2021

Legacies of Violence and Complicity

In 1985, the Philadelphia police dropped two bombs on the MOVE organization following an exchange of gunfire between police and members of MOVE. The resulting fire killed 11 members and destroyed 65 houses around Osage Avenue. The event was horrific and an example of the types of excessive police violence, particularly against black and brown people, that seems unrelenting.

Although our department does not have a physical anthropology program, Prof. Alan Mann was hired in 2000 from the University of Pennsylvania to teach classes on human evolution and retired in 2015. Prof. Mann helped with the 1985 attempts to identify the remains from the MOVE bombing and over time, continued to study one set of the remains with unclear identification.

Given Prof. Mann’s affiliation with our department, coupled with what we know about the troubled history of the field of physical anthropology, we should have asked more questions about his research. As anthropologists we acknowledge that American physical anthropology began as a racist science marked by support for, and participation in, eugenics. It defended slavery, played a role in supporting restrictive immigration laws, and was used to justify segregation, oppression and violence in the USA and beyond. Physical anthropology has used, abused and disrespected bodies, bones and lives of indigenous and racialized communities under the guise of research and scholarship. Despite increasing anti-racist methods, theory and action in anthropological approaches to studying human bodies and human variation, there remain too many echoes of the past in current practice.

We, as a department, acknowledge our complicity in this history and are committed to working against elements of the anthropological approaches that facilitate, perpetuate or reiterate the racist and harmful practices relating to human bodies, lives and experiences. We recognize that we have a long way to go toward ensuring that anthropology bends towards justice.

Department of Anthropology
Princeton University

Current Policies and Guidelines

The Department of Anthropology at Princeton is not in possession of, and has no plans to create, a human osteological collection or to acquire human remains in any form. We do not have a research or teaching trajectory that focusses on human remains. Current use of osteological materials is in instructional contexts and such materials are primarily in the form of casts and replicas, not actual skeletal material.  

However, if there is an instructional context wherein any actual human skeletal materials may be used, we follow the following guidelines/frameworks: 

  1. The department recognizes that there are substantive legal, ethical, and cultural expectations and considerations that must be acknowledged and strictly adhered to with regard to the care, use and stewardship of human remains.
  2. Undergraduate instruction shall be undertaken primarily with casts and replicas, not actual skeletal material. In special cases where actual skeletal material may be used in teaching, anyone who is to handle the remains must first be instructed as to the proper methods for doing so. Any human remains must be stored in a secure facility, and their usage supervised to ensure that they are handled appropriately. Any and all human remains are treated with dignity and respect. 
  3. Descendant communities have a right to control the disposition of their ancestral and affiliated remains, as is specified in both federal and state law. The disposition and use of such remains will always be in accordance with any agreements made with descendant or affiliated communities and federal and state accords such as the Native American Graves Protection Acts (NAGPRA).