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The Duckworth Laboratory

What is the Duckworth Laboratory?

The Duckworth Collection is one of the world's largest repositories of human remains, numbering approximately 18,000 individuals. These range from blood samples, to hair bundles, single bones, complete skeletons, mummies, and decorated skulls, and are widely used for scientific research.

The poet Alexander Pope said that the proper study of mankind is man. To know ourselves we have to study ourselves. At the time Pope was writing these lines, scientists were beginning their adventures in anthropology. One of their ways of doing this was to study the human skeleton. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, this work grew as anthropological and biological research gave us a greater and greater understanding of our evolution and diversity, much of it on the basis of anatomical evidence. Cambridge was at the forefront of this endeavour, and the result was the Duckworth Collection and Laboratory – one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of human skeletal remains in the world. These collections also include the skeletal remains of many non-human primate species, casts of fossil hominins and other primates, as well as other examples of human physical variation, such as collections of hairs. 

Scientists and students use the Duckworth Collection as much today as 100 years ago or more [ a brief history of the Duckworth ]. Research questions have changed, and new scientific techniques developed - it is now possible to extract DNA from bone, or to employ 3D imaging methods to record anatomical variation and study biomechanics, or to infer the diet of people in the past from the study of isotopes in their teeth. The Duckworth, like other such collections round the world, continues to play a central role in each new phase of research into the biology and behaviour of humans.

The Duckworth Laboratory is an integral part of LCHES, and the modern housing and curation of the collections was one of the main objectives in the creation and founding of the Centre. The Laboratory offers access to its collections to all bona fide scientists who apply to work with the materials or use the laboratory’s facilities as part of a research project.

> The Duckworth Laboratory Policy on the Curation and Conservation of Human Remains

> The University of Cambridge procedures for handling claims for the transfer of stewardship of human remains



© 2012 Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of Cambridge