Honouring the Ancient Dead is a British initiative that advocates respect for what are commonly called ‘human remains’ and their related funereal artefacts.

Site Introduction & Welcome


HAD’s particular focus is the physical evidence of ancestors who don’t fall within either the protective legislation of the Human Tissue Act (2004), being those less than 100 years old, or the Guidance for Best Practice for Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England (2005).

HAD’s Statement of Intent lays out the initiative’s aims in full.  In summary, HAD works to support a particular perspective with regard to the ancestors, one that acknowledges them as still being integral and influencing members of the community worthy of respect.

Such a perspective may be based on a religious or spiritual belief.  For example, animists and pantheists may perceive this presence as a deeper consciousness within nature.  For others, this view may be based on social, community and heritage values, where the ongoing importance of the ancestors is found in the legacy of ancestral lives, our memories of them, and our ongoing interaction with both these elements.

Whatever perspective is held is reflected in how we treat their ‘remains’.  Because most ancestral physicality is found in archaeological, museum and other such contexts, through which bones, cremated ash and other bodily elements are exhumed, studied, stored, displayed or reburied, it is here that HAD’s work is mainly focused.

HAD works to support those who have specific interests in ancestral ‘remains’, whatever their religious or non-religious beliefs, with the express focus of encouraging and facilitating productive relations with those who have custody of the ‘remains’.  This includes clear dialogue, defining terms where there is confusion, promoting consultative models, encouraging community involvement and shared decision-making, at both local and national levels.  It also works to produce relevant policies, guidance and best practice documents for use by heritage organisations and individuals working with ancestors, and to keep an up-to-date database of what ancestral ‘remains’ are held and where, keeping this in the public domain for widespread access.  Essentially, HAD works generally to raise the standards of respectful interaction in this field.