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Human Remains- Retention or Reburial?
Looking at the topics about the reburial of remains from Avebury got me thinking about the whole issue of archaeology and any human remains that are disturbed by development, and what should be done with them in post-ex.
This is a complex issue as bodies in graves are, for the most part, were buried by people who had a variety of beliefs over the millenia.
With graves in (either past or present) consecrated Christian burial grounds,they can be re-interred using a Christian ceremony.But for pagan burials the issue as to what should be done with them is up in the air, so to speak, on the grounds that we don't know to what religion they belong to- and as such means they can be kept for scientific study or even put on display in museums (this can also be done to Christian remains), but is this the right thing to do with Human remains?
Some people would argue that without the retention of such remains how can we study our past, the lifestyles of people and whatever diseases they suffered from? all good arguements, but, if this was to take place (for example) in New Zealand or the USA then the rights of the native people would dictate that they are reburied- and from what I can gather, this is also the case for Christian remains.
Surely the idea of burying people in the first place was to insure that their remains would not be harmed and that they could be left undisturbed for all time. Admittedly,when they were first buried no-one then would have envisaged that future development would entail the bodies being removed from their graves and taken elsewhere, but the idea that they would be kept "from resting in peace", surely would be anathema to them.
As archaeologists, we often talk about the removal of human remains being done with respect to members of our own species- but where is the respect if we don't 'respect' the wishes of the people whose graves are disturbed? if we treat them as being 'fair game' simply because there is no-one alive who could claim the bodies for reburial or speak up for them, then it becomes little better than a 'finders-keepers' mentality.
As an archaeologist, I am all for said remains being analyzed for whatever we can 'learn' from them- but not to keep them indeffinately just for the sake of what we 'might' learn from them with future, better ways of scientific research.
Kevin Leahey is quoted as saying that it would be disrespectful to just allow the bones to rot away in the ground as then the person is lost to us for all time- whereas science can bring them 'back to life again' by recreating what they looked liked, but do we really need to retain their bones for that? whatever we have learned from the bones can be kept on a data-base, and even copies made of the bones (if need be) to display in museums and the original people can then be reburied.
But then the question will be asked "where?"- perhaps each county could have a 'set-aside' burial ground, solely for interring human remains that have been displaced through development?
Quote:quote:Originally posted by Dirty Dave Lincoln

Surely the idea of burying people in the first place was to insure that their remains would not be harmed and that they could be left undisturbed for all time.

Not so sure that the above is true for all peoples of all cultures and of all periods. There is a famous scene in Hamlet where Shakespeare uses the sexton to describe the purpose of burial as effectively being one of sanitised defleshing, until such a point as the 'dry bones' can be efficently disposed of. My guess (based on lots of experience of late medieval and early modern burials) is that he accurately describes a fairly relaxed attitude to the sanctity of human remains.

As I can think of two modern-day countries where that is still the case (where burial ground is in effect rented for a fixed period of time and after that time relatives are invited to either collect the bones of their loved ones or allow their disposal through cremation) I am sure that such practices are fairly common.

I would suggest that as archaeologists/anthropologists we take care in how we attribute modern western mores to our study groups.

[Image: 3216700919_bab3ee7520_t.jpg]

With peace and consolation hath dismist, And calm of mind all passion spent...
Evenin all...

Ethically, we should as a profession assess our treatment of Human remains-no argument there at all. One key point that seems to be missed is the very nature of planning-related development where Human remains are encountered. In this context, the "law" suggests that archaeologists should be the ones to carry out the work. In a nutshell, if we didn`t, either some muppet from a clearence company or, a construction industry labourer would do it with a JCB. Its that simple. Lets not hesitate to point out that the developers are seen in "law" as the polluters here. If we (as a society) want to impose a more ethics-based ideology when it comes to the disturbance of Human remains then really, the buck stops with planning authorities who allow schemes to go ahead or ultimately, central government themselves.

Archaeologists and the associated sciences are all to often seen as the ghouls when in fact, they are actually the only viable mitigation options available once planning permission has been given. I do feel however, that there is no justification whatsoever in disturbing Human remains when there is clearly no immediate threat to them. In context, I mean training excavations and research excavations. Simply, if there is no immediate threat to the remains, leave them alone. Excavation of Human remains should be seen as the last resort.If excavation is to go ahead, it should only do so with prior consultation with qualified osteologists and a full post-excavation analysis/publication and storage budget/plan in place.

With reference to another current thread, whilst it is essential that all citizens should have a say in the ethical treatment of said remains, do we (as practitioners and custodians) not have an obligation/duty to protect excavated Human remains from the fictional fantasies of some elements of society? :face-huh:

..knowledge without action is insanity and action without knowledge is vanity..(imam ghazali,ayyuhal-walad)
Quote:quoteConfusedome muppet from a clearence company

I don't think that referring to workers in other professions who have to work within the same legal framework as the rest of us in this derogatory manner is particularly helpful, or indeed with the AUP.

Moving on, since the 19th century the only sure way to ensure that your remains are in the ground for perpetuity is to purchase a private plot with a cemetery company (e.g. Kensal Green, Highgate). These plots are freehold and enjoy rights not afforded to those buried in churchyards or municipal cemeteries. Churchyards get full and as anyone who's done a watching brief in one will tell you there are graves upon graves and cut through graves so the idea of perpetuity (at least intact) has little meaning in that context.
given the methodology of cemetery clearance.. Wink

movin on, that is an interesting point.

?When a sinister person means to be your enemy, they always start by trying to become your friend.?
William Blake
Burial grounds that have been extensively used for a long period of time will inevitably have truncated bodies in them, as new graves quite often cut through older ones.
But that should still have no bearing on what we in the present and future do with said remains when they have to be removed prior to modern intrusive activities.
I do not ask this in regards as to whichever religious group should do the reburying, but what should be the standard policy for ALL human remains? some do end up being reburied, but a lot just end up in boxes on museum shelfs and elsewhere for storage. Is this right?
Some people have said on other topics that they wouldn't care if their remains end up on display in a museum or being studied by scientists- I would say,that is their right to dictate how they would like their OWN remains to be disposed off, but that right surely does not extend to what should happen to others.
..........given the methodology of cemetery experience of this has made me never to go anywhere near it again...still i am shocked at what i saw............
Just a rather leftfield thought...

If we follow the path of reburial for excavated skeletons, down to the actual possible burial rites and rituals... should we be reburning cremated individuals? Furthermore, should we be recreating the burial vessel and the goods that went with them? Everything is geared towards the reburial of intact people... what about poor old cremmed people?

i.e. does a handful of ash represent a human being?
surely better than some muppet from an archaeological company Wink
I wonder iff anyone has asked 'can archaeology and the freedom of religious thought/practise mix?' especially if the tenets of some religions go against 'common archaeological practise':face-huh::face-thinks:

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