Friday, 4 February 2011

Current reburial issues

Legislation forces archaeologists to rebury finds

"The dispute centres on legislation introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2008 which requires all human remains excavated at digs in England and Wales to be reburied within two years, regardless of their age."

Reburying all human remains (regardless of their age!) because we fear to offend a relatively small group of people seems like such a waste of research potential to me. Especially now that we’re discovering more and more scientific methods in which we can do research on human remains in order to learn more about prehistoric life, it seems illogical to me to rebury these remains and miss our chance of enhancing our knowledge of this field. Not to mention that the majority of people find research that has and is being done on human remains fascinating. Whenever I meet with people and tell them about my excavation experience one of the first questions they ask is “Have you ever found any human remains?”. When I tell them that I study Conservation they ask me questions about bog bodies and mummies. And is the exhibition that includes the Egyptian mummies not the best visited part of the British Museum?

"The ruling applies to any pieces of bone uncovered at around 400 dig sites, including the remains of 60 or so bodies found at Stonehenge in 2008 that date back to 3,000BC. Archaeologists have been granted a temporary extension to give them more time, but ultimately the bones will have to be returned to the ground."

What really frustrates me is that groups like "Honouring the Ancient Dead" (HAD), who are part of the driving force behind this legislation, now have won the right to have these remains reburied based on the fact that these remains are recognized as their "pre-Christian ancestors". We are talking about 3000 year old human remains who are reclaimed by a relatively young religious group (1) who, correct me if I'm mistaken, have never officially asked for scientific research to be conducted in order to be legally recognized as the genealogical descendants of these buried people. Legally they should have no more right to these remains than the majority of the "native population of England".

If you visit the HAD website you can see that they have a list of so-called "projects" where you can read how they have managed to get involved in the reburial process. In the Stonehenge case the HAD has been in regular contact with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and this contact has evolved to the point where the MOJ has written a letter to the HAD (which you can read on their website) in which they promise the HAD that "pagan communities will continue to be consulted regarding this issue".

Links to various websites

Reburial requirement impedes archaeology

HAD - Honouring the Ancient Dead

(1) I am aware of the fact that certain Pagan groups say that their parents/grandparents/ancestors have managed to keep their religious Pagan traditions alive for thousands of years. However, this has never been proven and the religion has never been officially recognized until rather recently.

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