The human skeletal remains housed within our laboratories at UNC Charlotte have been evaluated and inventoried within the last five years. The remains used in teaching scenarios are predominantly anatomical in origin, having been purchased recently from reputable anatomical companies who note provenience, obtained from other anatomical skeletal collections, or inherited from prior faculty where the remains were purchased as teaching materials. There are valid ethical concerns with using modern anatomical collections, and we prefer to use cast or model material when possible. However, it is essential to use real human remains to learn about human bone, and currently, there is no equivalent substitute. And even when using remains for teaching purposes, they are never used for display or “shock value.”
We also curate a small forensic collection of unidentified individuals and individuals involved in unsolved cases for the state of North Carolina. Notably, it is not possible to repatriate these remains to their families for various legal reasons, depending on the nature of the case. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students have opportunities to work with these remains but they are not used in introductory courses, nor made generally available.
In our classes, we stress what a privilege it is to learn from the remains of the deceased and that working with these individuals carries ethical responsibilities. The dead are always treated with respect in any class or research performed within our laboratory, outside of the laboratory, or in any real-world research setting. We also have set laboratory guidelines that students must strictly adhere to or they are not permitted in the lab and could be dismissed from our classes.