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Archaeology students Rosa Seepma and Aida Tadesse receive NVFA incentive prize for Allard Pierson Museum internship.

Research Master’s students in Archaeology Rosa Seepma and Aida Tadesse received an Incentive Prize from the Dutch Association for Physical Anthropology (NVFA). They were awarded this honor for their ongoing study on the human osteology collection at the Allard Pierson Museum.

Inventory and skeletal analysis

The two students study the human remains in the collection of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam as part of an internship. ‘We did a basic analysis of the human remains, estimating age-at-death, sex and stature while looking into health and disease through pathology on bone’ Rosa explains. All the data was then stored in a database. ‘We also focused on the way these remains were stored and would be treated in the future, taking into account an ethical framework.’

‘We are in constant conversation with our supervisors at the Allard Pierson and with other institutions about how to approach museum collections of human remains.’ Aida adds. ‘Our views on human remains and how we want to treat them are constantly changing.’

Mapping it all out

While the Allard Pierson Museum may not be generally associated with human osteology, the museum does have a collection of human remains. ‘An inventory has not yet been made. That is actually part of our task as well,’ Aida notes. ‘We do know that the Allard Pierson houses samples from different regions, from Syria and Egypt to the Netherlands. But we have yet to find out what this collection consists of, we are still in the process of mapping it all out.’

A burial drawing from the Syrian skeletal collection of the Allard Pierson Museum (U 22 burial IX)

Unique internship

Even though the internship is still running, the NVFA Incentive Prize was already awarded to the students. ‘It might have to do with the fact that it’s a unique internship. In a sense, we are figuring this all out with the museum.’ Aida states. ‘Our tasks are diverse, ranging from skeletal analysis and archival research, to the ethics surrounding the storage and display of human remains.'

Ethics and human remains

Nowadays, discussions about how to handle human remains in archaeology and heritage abound. ‘We both find it really exciting that we as a discipline are now facing these questions,’ Aida says. ‘They are really challenging and we don’t always have an answer to the questions we raise, but it is important to keep these discussions going. It is very nice to play a role in this process.’

Rosa concurs: ‘This internship gave us a nice opportunity to discuss these matters, and to change our minds. There are so many aspects of what it means to treat human remains ethically. You’ve got the aspect of storage, but also displaying in exhibitions, and the questions whether we should even keep the remains in depots.’

Nodding, Aida adds: ‘It is definitely a discussion we have had. What is a good reason to keep human remains in storage? One thing that could be considered a good reason is research. This is why we are trying to create an inventory, and to repackage everything, to help care for these human remains while making them accessible for research.'


The students were very surprised to hear that they had won the NVFA Incentive Prize. ‘We were not expecting this at all, because we are just students doing an internship.’ Rosa notes, still looking shocked. ‘It is amazing to get this recognition because we have worked hard for it. It is a great confirmation that we are on the right track.’ Aida smiles: ‘It does feel really good to know that our work is being recognized because it’s not an easy internship. We feel very grateful.’

From the letter of recommendation

This research goes above and beyond a typical internship and illustrates the future of ethical studies of human remains in museums. Aida and Rosa excelled at this opportunity and have done amazing work. It is also important to say that all of this work was done while they completing coursework and their own Research Masters projects at Leiden University.
- Dr Sarah Schrader

The prize was awarded on June 8 during the annual meeting of the NVFA.

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