With the use of three-dimensional modeling and printing becoming more commonplace in cultural heritage with the digital preservation of artifacts and sites, ethical standards must also be considered in the replication of any cultural aspect. People might not immediately think of forensic sciences or anatomy being immediately connected to culture, but this is where anthropology brings everything together. Biology embodies culture. Concepts such as plasticity, evolution, environmental conditions, and genetic theory all influence one another, are deeply affected by culture, and are the foundation of human variation. Human variation being the pinnacle of forensic anthropology methodology and humanity.

Legislation and the ethical consideration in using skeletal remains for general research have been outlined in recent literature by Drs. Marin Pilloud & Nick Passalacqua (Ethics and Professionalism in Forensic Anthropology). Medical fields have used anatomical specimens to teach for ages but plastination (the process of preserving anatomical specimens) has been in debate for public outreach and education, specifically surrounding exhibits such as Body Worlds and BODIES: The Exhibition. When creating open-source, three-dimensional scans, we have to think about the context and origins of the remains including cultural, personal, and religious beliefs.

Our forensic anthropology lab here at Michigan State (MSUFAL), uses a family donation form that specifically outlines that the remains may be used “for the advancement of medical science, teaching, and study” signed by the family members of the individual. Further dialogues need to be held about the best practices of scanning skeletal elements for educational, open-access of this data. To begin, we can think about donation practices, de-identifying data, while simultaneously allowing for equitable access to teaching and research collections.

Further Reading—