Friday, 19 June 2015

#PeaceforFriedrichBrandt and the debate on displaying human remains

The remains of a soldier, widely believed to be 23-year-old hunchback, Private Friedrich Brandt from Hanover, Germany, have been the centre of debate amongst historians lately.

The skeleton of the man who died during the Battle of Waterloo 200 years ago is currently on display in a Belgium museum as part of a commemorative exhibition after having been found under a car park near the battlefield in 2012.

Campaigners, including many military historians and archaeologists, are calling for the remains to be reinterred with the “dignity and respect [of a] proper burial that has been denied him for so long.” German historian, Rob Schäfer, who has created a Facebook and a page in order to petition and raise awareness about the controversy surrounding Private Brandt’s remains, has stated that: “It is accepted that his remains should be studied for serious archaeological purposes but, after the data has been collected, the man should be allowed to rest in peace, instead of being viewed as a morbid object of curiosity by thousands of paying tourists - particularly when in an enlightened and technologically advanced world it is perfectly possible to laser scan the remains and produce a 3D replica for display.”

Tony Pollard, historian, archaeologist and Editor of Journal of Conflict Archaeology, tweeted: “He was a soldier. He died in battle. He deserves a grave. End of.” Comedian and keen historian, Al Murray, also contributed to the debate by tweeting: “#PeaceforFriedrichBrandt this soldier's bones shouldn't be on display, he should be at rest.”

Those in opposition to this campaign have made reference to the display of Egyptian Mummies and Bog Bodies to support the exhibition of Private Brandt’s remains. The Memorial has defended the exhibit, stating that “ultimately, it seemed to everybody that the greatest homage that could be paid to him was to consider him, with the respect to which he is entitled and that the museum exhibit has sought to ensure.”  

Should the remains of Friedrich Brandt be given a proper burial? Is there a gain to keeping his bones as part of a commemorative exhibition? Let us know your thoughts.

Read more about the human remains in museum collections in these two free articles from Public Archaeology:

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