The death of a person may occur under conditions which result in the body, or portions of it, not being returned to relatives for appropriate burial. Or burial grounds may be desecrated for scientific purposes, resulting in the removal of bones and other objects to distant scientific institutions. Death during military action may also result in bodies being dismembered or unretrievable causing considerable distress to relatives.
Appropriate burial of relatives and ancestors is of considerable importance to some cultures, especially where the spirits of the dead people are held to be associated with those remains. In 1991 the Smithsonian Institution in the USA returned remains of 31 members of an Indian tribe, following protest. The remains of some 2,000 other American Indians are still kept in its collections. The collections are ordered in such a way that it makes it difficult to return the remains to the correct tribe. In 1993 the return of the remains of 33 American soldiers killed in the Korean War constituted a significant conciliatory gesture in diplomatic relations between the USA and North Korea.