Genetic research has increasing power to analyse old biological remains. Biological traces of well-known historical persons can reveal personal information. The aim of this thesis is to investigate ethical concerns for the dead, within the biological, historical and archaeological sciences.
In philosophy there is a long-running discussion on whether or not the dead can be wronged. The good name is proposed as a candidate of a posthumous interest. It is first of all argued that slandering per se can be wrong regardless of posthumous wronging of the dead. Secondly, the concept of change is investigated. It is argued that the property of having a reputation is a relational property. Hence a change in public opinion of a dead person, is also a change in the dead person’s reputation.
The third contribution of this thesis is a constructive proposal for how a posthumous identity could be understood using narrative theory. Understanding identity through the life-story opens up the possibility of a gradual loss of identity after death, rather than absolute loss at the moment of death. Fragments of a person‘s narrative identity can persist in other peoples’ narratives, and for some historical persons, their narratives can be found long after their death.
Finally, the implications of a remaining narrative identity for the dead are investigated in the area of archaeology and museumology. In the past 30 years, there has been increasing critique about present and past discriminatory handling of old human remains by archaeologists, in museums and in other institutions. Increasing numbers of requests have been made for repatriation or reburial of old human remains. Following an analysis of three current ethical guidelines in handling old human remains, changes to these guidelines are proposed based on a narrative method to a hypothetical claim of reburial.