Ina Thegen

New guest researcher, Ina Thegen

Ina Thegen is a guest researcher at the LNU Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies between February and May 2022. Ina is researching the current structural frameworks surrounding ancient human remains in Danish archaeology as well as stakeholder relationships in relation hereto.

Ina Thegen is employed as a Ph.D. fellow at Aarhus University, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies. In her Ph.D.-project, Life after Death: An interdisciplinary investigation of principles and practices surrounding curation and treatment of ancient human remains, she investigates Danish archaeology and the interplay between legislation, the antiquarian sector and contract archaeology, the academy, the broader public and overarching ethics concerning human remains from archaeological contexts. Her research is conducted in the light of international developments and interdisciplinary initiatives pertaining to archaeology and human remains, which until now have had little influence on Danish professional debates and conduct.

Human remains harbor an enduring fascination for the public, archaeologists, other fields of research, museum professionals, etc. On one hand they have a certain potency, being charged with political, evidentiary and emotional meanings, while on the other, human remains can be nothing more than mundane, anatomical pieces. This position, in the tension field between object and subject, underlies a general difficulty of dealing with human remains and in practice, the archaeological study of the human body often come to sit uneasily between two often conflicting traditions. On one side are traditional osteological approaches grounded in specific and often non-destructive empirical traditions, i.e., physical anthropology and medical anatomy. On the other, a range of influential understandings derived from social theory, viewing the body as a social construction. To complicate matters further, recent years have seen a dramatic acceleration of destructive analytical techniques and research working from samples of human remains, which have outpaced considerations and discussions of both its social and intellectual implications.

Whereas social and intellectual implications of excavating, exhibiting and researching human remains have been considered and addressed continuously in relation to Indigenous populations, such implications have rarely been discussed in terms of more subtle, embedded stakeholders. These stakeholders are characterized by having an interest in archaeologically derived human remains; as the remains themselves, their materiality and/or research potential and being embedded in the same community as the ones within which archaeology operate. Such communities can be research communities, local communities, etc. This type of stakeholder is characteristic for Danish archaeology, where no legislation or formal guidelines are enforced pertaining to the sensitive nature of human remains or consider non-archaeological stakeholders.

By re-considering how stakeholders are defined in terms of human remains and archaeology, Ina works directly with identifying and understanding such stakeholder relationships and claims, in order to address them from an archaeological standpoint. This should create a new basis for and promote a qualified academic and public debate which can help to identify how archaeology, other fields of research and society more broadly can engage with ancient human remains in ways that are more sustainable – scientifically, politically, societally and ethically.

Ina can be reached at