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For many Ancestral Remains a National Resting Place will be their permanent home. To provide both the respect that is due to Ancestral Remains and to provide them with ‘best practice’ Conservation care, the aim of a National Resting Place should be to hold those remains in a condition that is as close as possible to the one in which they were received for as long as they are held in the Store.

To this end, the storage conditions should aim to provide for sustainable, long-term care, and only Conservation treatments which are essential for the survival of the individual remains or for the well-being of all remains in the storage environment more generally, such as pest treatments, should be undertaken.

From a Conservation perspective, Ancestral Remains need to be approached differently from standard museum objects. They are not required for loan or for display and they do not require repair or other treatments to improve their appearance. From this perspective, the following points need to be kept in mind.

Ancestral Remains can take a number of forms – bone, tissue, hair and teeth. There are also remains which have been altered after death for either cultural or scientific reasons, such as cultural artefacts incorporating remains, DNA samples and histology slides (see Section 3.1 for further details). Ancestral Remains which have been though traditional mortuary practices and deposition are most likely to make up the vast majority of remains in the Store. Prior to removal from their deposition sites these remains will have been exposed to environmental extremes such as very high and/or very low temperatures, i.e. greater than 50°C or below 0°C, or very high or low relative humidity (RH), i.e. saturation or desiccation. Because of their environmental history these Ancestral Remains are unlikely to undergo any further physical damage from the environmental parameters proposed here, i.e. 10–25°C and 50% + or −10% RH with a 10% daily fluctuation. This is because any physical damage will have already occurred and any structural stresses will have been released resulting in crack, splits, delamination and other forms of post-mortem damage before they enter a National Resting Place. [2]

The environmental requirements for permanent storage of Ancestral Remains in a facility sited in Canberra or any similar dry/cool temperate place can be maximised by incorporating passive design rather than relying on artificial climate-control systems. In this context, passive design significantly reduces the impact of external fluctuations in temperature and RH. Even with a sustained slight upward or downward drift in temperature and RH it is unlikely that the remains would be adversely impacted because the buffering provided by the building, and the boxes and cabinets in which the remains are held, would slow the rate of change and allow the remains to adjust to the new conditions very gradually.

Almost all types of Ancestral Remains will be able to be stored in a single storage area. The exceptions to this will be some of those remains which have been modified after death, either by their Community or by the institutions which received them after they were removed from their original context. For example, many institutions in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century used arsenic powders to prevent biological attack on mummified remains. These can never be completely removed. Also, where a skeleton was complete or almost complete, a metal armature was introduced to hold the bones in the same positions as they would have occupied in life.

Depending on past storage conditions these armatures may have expanded due to corrosion. Occasionally these modifications create changes in the remains which require adjustment to their environmental or storage requirements. These are likely to be a very small percentage of the Ancestral Remains held in a National Resting Place and can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (see Appendix 1).

The requirements for bringing Ancestral Remains into the Store are similar to those required for incoming museum collection items. The main difference is the need for greater privacy and access control to ensure respectful treatment for the remains.

The successful permanent care of Ancestral Remains is very much dependent on the initial design of the storage area. If a Mitigated Store has been created which incorporates the best available passive design then ongoing care would only require a system for air circulation (see Section 3.3) and well-managed housekeeping. This would involve programs for cleaning, pest checking, monitoring/maintenance of remains with special environmental requirements and the maintenance of Occupational Health and Safety standards.

Unless they are identified as unstable, all skeletal and mummified remains and objects incorporating remains can be held in the General Storage Area (see Sections 3.1 to 3.3). Their main requirements are a stable RH centred around 50%, temperatures which fluctuate by no more than 10°C daily, and as little vibration as possible. Moisture and vibration are the greatest risks to their long-term survival. For the purposes of storage, remains can be grouped into the following categories.

Footnotes

[2] Ancestral Remains may also have suffered damage from the pH of the soil, particularly if the soil is wet, or from invasive plant roots, but any ongoing threat these pose usually ceases when the remains are removed from their deposition context. While the physical structure of the remains may have been weakened, any further damage is unlikely to occur if the remains are held in a stable environment and, if considered at risk, are placed on the monitoring schedule for vulnerable remains.

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