JAIC 2004, Volume 43, Number 3, Article 2 (pp. 227 to 236)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2004, Volume 43, Number 3, Article 2 (pp. 227 to 236)




CHS-ISLAT investigators have drafted a preliminary set of questions to facilitate the evaluation of biohistorical research proposals; ethical guidelines will be published at a later date. The questions were developed following a review of published biohistorical studies and human subject regulations, consultation with a range of specialists, and analysis of codes of ethics and practice for a selected group of professional associations.


  • Who will assume primary responsibility for evaluating the proposed investigation?
  • Has an appropriate interdisciplinary and/or intercultural team of consultants been assembled for planning and implementing the project as well as interpreting and disseminating project results?
  • Has adequate consideration been given to the historical, scientific, and social implications of the proposed investigation?
  • Have potential conflicts of interest been identified?
  • What federal, state, or local laws are applicable?
  • What provisions have been made for the responsible stewardship of cultural artifacts that will be sampled for the investigation?
  • Who has “ownership” of or rights to the intellectual property generated?


  • Have the investigators critically engaged previous historical scholarship and existing evidence?
  • What are the investigators' motivations for the proposed research?
  • Can the historical question be answered with nonbiological evidence?
  • Is the provenance of proposed biological samples reliable?
  • Does the significance of the historical question justify destructive sampling or analysis of cultural artifacts?


  • Can the proposed methodologies answer the historical question?
  • Have nondestructive methodologies been adequately considered?
  • Do the investigators have previous experience and a reasonable success rate with the proposed materials and methodologies?
  • Is the laboratory facility appropriate for the proposed investigation?
  • If genetic testing has been proposed:
  • Have preliminary tests confirming the nature of suspected biological traces been performed?
  • Does the condition of biological materials suggest that aDNA is more likely to be present than not?
  • Have the proposed sampling and testing techniques been validated on similar aged and fragile materials?
  • What are the likely sources of contamination, and can they be controlled by standard protocols?
  • Is an authenticated DNA reference sample available for comparative analysis?
  • Is the laboratory facility solely dedicated to human aDNA analysis?


  • Who are the stakeholders in the proposed investigation, and have the investigators demonstrated a commitment to initiating and maintaining a dialogue with them?
  • What are the potential negative consequences of biohistorical knowledge production for human subjects as well as their relatives and communities?
  • Are appropriate safeguards in place to protect human subjects as well as their relatives and communities?
  • Provisions for informed consent and confidentiality should consider:
  • Who will be asked to provide consent and why?
  • What provisions have been made for securing identifying information?
  • Who will have access to test results and control of acquired data?
  • How and where will samples be stored and for how long?
  • What provisions have been made for used vials, leftover samples, or destruction of test materials?

Copyright � 2004 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works