The study of human remains can provide major insights into health, trauma, migration patterns, demography and many other important lifeways questions. However, answering them often depends upon a combination of excavation records, collection histories and associated funerary objects as well as analysis of human remains themselves. The availability of such evidence is largely dependent upon accurate and accessible collection records and up-to-date curation documents. In this chapter, we will consider associated documents, in general, and then those specifically related to human remains collections in repositories located in England; what influences documentation prioritisation; and what information about human remains collections is made publicly available and how. Two projects are presented to highlight the difficulties in bringing together even basic details needed for human remains research (eg minimum number of individuals (Mm), provenance and time period). With this background, we suggest that those responsible for curating human remains (as well as those who research them) can do more to make human remains collections more accessible through the documentation process.
The term ‘associated documents’ is used here to mean all records directly or indirectly related to items held as part of a collection. The International Council of Museums' (ICOM's) Code of Ethics and similar texts related to professional ethics require that museum collections be documented. ICOM (2006, 5) states:
Museum collections should be documented according to accepted professional standards. Such documentation should include a full identification and description of each object, its associations, provenance, condition, treatment and present location. Such data should be kept in a secure environment and be supported by retrieval systems providing access to the information by the museum personnel and other legitimate users.