A triple burial dating to the Roman period, being excavated at Stanwick, Northamptonshire.
Historic England advises on human remains, such as these from Roman Stanwick. © Historic England
Historic England advises on human remains, such as these from Roman Stanwick. © Historic England

Human Remains Advice

Human burials from archaeological sites are an important source of information about our past.  Their excavation, study and archiving also raises distinct ethical and legal issues (for example, see our joint response with the National Trust to a request for reburial of human remains from prehistoric Avebury, Wiltshire). We provide specialist advice on all aspects of human remains from archaeological sites in England.

As well as providing advice on a case by case basis, we have also produced published guidelines. We were also involved in crafting Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and the Updated Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains, for the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology.

You can contact our Science Advisors for direct advice or contact Simon Mays for advice on human osteoarchaeology.

Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England (APABE)

The Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England (APABE) provides advice on any aspect of English archaeological burials. The objective is to nurture a consistent approach to ethical, legal, scientific, archaeological and other matters concerning the treatment of archaeological human remains.

APABE membership has broad experience of dealing with human remains in a variety of different professional settings and circumstances. It may give advice on specific matters and also advise on general issues of principle or policy. This is a free service supported by Historic England, The Church of England and the Ministry of Justice.

APABE has published Science and the Dead: A Guideline for the Destructive Sampling of Archaeological Human Remains for Scientific Analysis. This aims to provide a framework to help organisations responsible for the care of archaeological human remains respond to requests from researchers for removal of bone or tooth samples for the purposes of scientific analysis. The guideline describes some of the legal, ethical and scientific considerations involved. This has been published as in updated edition in 2023.

In 2015 APABE published Large Burial Grounds: Guidance on Sampling in Archaeological Fieldwork Projects. It is a guideline aimed at professionals involved in fieldwork projects that impact upon archaeological burials numbering in the thousands.

In 2017, with support from Historic England, APABE published an updated edition of Guidance for Best Practice for the treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England. This superseded the original 2005 guidance published by Historic England.

Simon Mays

Human Skeletal Biologist
  • Department

    National Specialist Services
  • Address

    Fort Cumberland,
    Fort Cumberland Road,
    P04 9LD