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Law could bury ancient secrets for ever - Comments

sunbeamforjeebus's Avatar Comment 1 by sunbeamforjeebus

Surely this is a law from which archaeology is exempt.'Regardless of age' is a ridiculous restriction to place upon science.Commonsense should dictate that human remains are only to be re-interred if relatives of the deceased protest,providing of course they can prove a connection.Why on earth would we want to even consider such nonsense!

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 09:26:11 UTC | #587734

alexandra_1982's Avatar Comment 2 by alexandra_1982

This is beyond ridiculous! I am an archaeologist myself and have never heard of anything so stupid. Why not simply forbid digging altogether? Then, one could also abolish the archaeology and anthropology departments at the universities and save lots and lots of money... I wonder if some religious considerations prompted this nonsense...

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 09:37:18 UTC | #587739

jel's Avatar Comment 3 by jel

If the bones are as old as quoted, is it not possible to claim that they are not human? After all, evolution is going on all the time and the change from each generation to the next is very gradual. Unlike xtians we don't claim that at a certain point xtians appeared (adam & eve) and that all generations before weren't human, we accept that the changes are small & gradual so the point where Homo Sapians appears as a very distinct species must be open to interpretation.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 09:47:32 UTC | #587742

Sample's Avatar Comment 4 by Sample

The only thing that should be buried is this legislation.

Mike

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 09:54:32 UTC | #587744

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 5 by Stevehill

How ridiculous. Does the law only apply to Homo sapiens, or does it include earlier types? Or have they not thought about that?

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 10:23:11 UTC | #587755

godsbelow's Avatar Comment 6 by godsbelow

I'm pretty sure I know what's at the heart of this legislation: a misguided and superstitious "respect for human remains".

Archaeology departments should simply refuse to comply with this stupidity.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 10:28:08 UTC | #587758

superbeanson's Avatar Comment 7 by superbeanson

This does seem preposterous- but I am sure that no pen pusher would have the temerity to enforce the point if for example some boffin refused to give up his autrolopithicus femur.

Perhaps some test case should be promoted to underline this

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 10:38:12 UTC | #587764

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 8 by Alan4discussion

Comment 2 by alexandra_1982

This is beyond ridiculous! I am an archaeologist myself and have never heard of anything so stupid. Why not simply forbid digging altogether? Then, one could also abolish the archaeology and anthropology departments at the universities and save lots and lots of money... I wonder if some religious considerations prompted this nonsense...

Sounds a bit like Mexican endangered plant species conservation. Disturbance is forbidden and subject to fines: - unless you use a bulldozer in a "development" or agricultural enterprise!

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 11:01:18 UTC | #587770

Pete H's Avatar Comment 9 by Pete H

Same silly rules happened in New Zealand.

It was driven by political correctness and expediency, probably related to the introduction of proportional representation, dodgy coalition government, and the need to buy support by shifting as much cash as possible into the hands of key players in the new Maori party. (Surely that's only a colonial problem. Nothing like that could ever happen to Mother England.)

The result was government funding for free holidays as entire tribes of claimed relatives (actually very distant ancestors) of people who died in the late 18th century, assorted officials, lawyers, priests, and consultants scored tax-paid holidays to Britain to recover body parts from museums. A unique DNA treasure trove that was lost forever.

No body part would ever be left unburied in that kind of situation. As far as I know the process continues even today.

On the other hand, perhaps the legislators or their lobbyists are deeply concerned about the sustainability of archeology. Basically it's mining finite resources. Perhaps these things need preservation and conservation to meet obligations for future generations. Maybe to make sure that Dr Zaius' future chimpanzee archeologists digging up the forbidden zone 20000 years from now will have something worthwhile to advance ape science.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 11:06:47 UTC | #587773

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 10 by Vorlund

Ridiculous indeed.

Wasn't it also Mr Clarke that stepped in to prevent the pope's arrest when he proposed changes to the law which would require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions to any arrest warrant issued under universal jurisdiction?

Is there some pseudo-religious pressure behind this. I suppose now we are going to have to re-inter all the museum and medical specimens? With religious rites? Known only to doG?

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 11:17:42 UTC | #587776

Anvil's Avatar Comment 11 by Anvil

The re-internment of Egyptian Mummies has been put on hold for a few weeks.

Anvil.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 11:47:09 UTC | #587788

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 12 by Richard Dawkins

The same problem arose over 'Kennewick Man', whose remains were claimed by the local Native American tribe, who could not possibly have any connection with so ancient a corpse. The farce reached Gilbert and Sullivan proportions when a cult of 'Norse' worshippers of Thor and Wotan submitted a rival claim to give a sacred burial to this important archeological specimen. Religion poisons even archeology.

Richard

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 12:03:42 UTC | #587793

mmurray's Avatar Comment 13 by mmurray

Comment 10 by Vorlund :

Ridiculous indeed.

Wasn't it also Mr Clarke that stepped in to prevent the pope's arrest when he proposed changes to the law which would require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions to any arrest warrant issued under universal jurisdiction?

Is there some pseudo-religious pressure behind this. I suppose now we are going to have to re-inter all the museum and medical specimens? With religious rites? Known only to doG?

You would have to pick which particular doG or more likely ancestral spirits.

This is a serious issue in countries such as Canada, the US, NZ and Australia with indigenous populations and there are rules in all these places about what needs to be done with remains if a tribal affiliation can be demonstrated by people who are alive. See for example the US Native American Graves and Protection and Repatriation Act and the continuing repatriation of Aboriginal remains held around the world.

I can see how this problem arises when an indigenous population has been occupied and is trying to assert itself but I don't understand the motivation for the UK law.

Michael

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 12:04:50 UTC | #587794

mmurray's Avatar Comment 14 by mmurray

Comment 11 by Anvil :

The re-internment of Egyptian Mummies has been put on hold for a few weeks.

Anvil.

I expect at the moment the main threat is a loss of Egyption antiquities into the black market.

Michael

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 12:12:36 UTC | #587796

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 15 by Cartomancer

The ministry has no guidelines on where or how remains should be reburied, or on what records should be kept.

Perhaps, then, museums and university Archaeology departments should take advantage of this ridiculous law and just symbolically sprinkle a pinch of soil over their specimens when the two-year period is up.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 13:05:11 UTC | #587815

mlgatheist's Avatar Comment 16 by mlgatheist

I am assuming that by human remains (bones) they mean Homo sapiens and not the remains of any of our earlier ancestors.

Can anyone tell me what secular purpose is being served by this law? What, if any, rational reasoning was used to develop this law?

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 13:08:49 UTC | #587817

alexandra_1982's Avatar Comment 17 by alexandra_1982

Comment 12 by Richard Dawkins Religion poisons even archeology.

Sadly, that seems to be the case.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 13:34:58 UTC | #587834

Marcus Small's Avatar Comment 18 by Marcus Small

You find this lobby group of interest.

I am not sure that I completely disagree with them.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 13:49:03 UTC | #587841

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 19 by Stevehill

Marcus - I'm all for honouring the ancient dead. But if in a few thousand years (or a few hundred thousands as the case may be) someone wanted to make some scientific use of my remains that would improve human knowledge, I'd be more than honoured if they did so, rather than left me alone and forsook the advancement of knowledge.

Surely even from a (mainstream) religious point of view, the soul has already left the building and is in heaven or wherever, and what's left behind is an empty vessel, incapable of being offended one way or the other?

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:02:23 UTC | #587845

palaeodave's Avatar Comment 20 by palaeodave

There are religious groups who push for this sort of thing:

http://www.honour.org.uk/

To be fair to British pagans, there are those with opposing views:

http://www.pasthorizons.com/index.php/archives/11/2010/pagans-support-archaeology-and-scientific-study

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:12:00 UTC | #587849

palaeodave's Avatar Comment 21 by palaeodave

Sorry, I should have put the direct link to Pagans For Archaeology:

http://archaeopagans.blogspot.com/

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:14:04 UTC | #587850

Marcus Small's Avatar Comment 22 by Marcus Small

Steve I say that I am not in complete disagreement.

When I die I want to be buried, which I hope will be followed by a slow but complete process of blending with the natural environment. I suspect a few years later I will be followed by my wife. The process of decay will continued. I quite like the idea returning to the earth and me and my wife becoming the same patch of earth. And there I hope we shall be.

The less and less I believe in individual survival post mortem, the more important the above prospect becomes.

However, do remember Meet the Ancestors? I shall be buried with vestments and chalice and patten. So perhaps some latter Julian Richards will dig me up.

"From the grave goods we can tell this man was a priest, and from his skull we know that was handsome man...."

Vanity of vanities....

As to the resurrection? well if of the body, as the creeds say it is , then if God exists and is creator of all this, then getting my bones from the museum store etc. Walk in the park.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:16:06 UTC | #587851

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 23 by KJinAsia

Comment 19 by Stevehill :

Marcus - I'm all for honouring the ancient dead. But if in a few thousand years (or a few hundred thousands as the case may be) someone wanted to make some scientific use of my remains that would improve human knowledge, I'd be more than honoured if they did so, rather than left me alone and forsook the advancement of knowledge.

Surely even from a (mainstream) religious point of view, the soul has already left the building and is in heaven or wherever, and what's left behind is an empty vessel, incapable of being offended one way or the other?

Of course. But since when have the religious ever been mainly driven by anything other than respect for authority, even if it is only ineffectually ancestral in nature.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:17:49 UTC | #587853

Alex_Redsky's Avatar Comment 24 by Alex_Redsky

Marcus Small [18] said:

You find this lobby group of interest. I am not sure that I completely disagree with them.

Well, I do. Although they sound "balanced and respectful" on their intentions, it seems to be a group of (anglo-saxon) Neo-pagans wanting to earn the same "respect" that traditional, and therefore more influential religions are granted on their burials. Notice the particular emphasis they place on that Dark Ages period. Would that mean that Roman remains, for example, are to be excluded from their claims ? Why this ethnic-centric approach is justified then ?

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:19:48 UTC | #587854

opposablethumbs's Avatar Comment 25 by opposablethumbs

What the dead, ancient or modern, would have wanted (to the extent that this could be known or reasonably conjectured) is irrelevant: they're dead. What does matter is the wellbeing of the living, who could be affected by the knowledge of what is being done with their ancestors' remains. I would suggest that this applies where the living actually have some genuine personal connection with the deceased - and this does not in fact extend back indefinitely across generations. One has such a connection with ones parents, grandparents, great-grandparents ... anything much further than that is probably willful self-delusion.

Trying to put myself in the descendants' shoes... say someone wanted to exhibit my very much loved and sorely missed mother's skeleton in a museum (necessarily hypothetical: I scattered the ashes myself) - that might be upsetting (it doesn't matter that this is irrational (and even though my mother probably wouldn't have minded as long as they got the science right)). My grandmother's? Play it safe; some of her children are still around. My great-grandmother's? Why the hell not? I agree with Stevehill; it would be an honour to play a part in advancing human knowledge in any way.

And when it comes to skeletons (or whatever remains) from many generations back, why should we pretend that these really belong to one group of living people more than to any other? (strictly speaking, it must surely be impossible except in a very few cases to prove any connection - a person alive today has only got 1/128th of their genes from an ancestor only a few generations back). So why shouldn't these remains belong to humanity, who can benefit from their possible value as a scientific resource?

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:30:15 UTC | #587859

Marcus Small's Avatar Comment 26 by Marcus Small

Comment 24 by Alex_Redsky

Would that mean that Roman remains, for example, are to be excluded from their claims ? Why this ethnic-centric approach is justified then ?

I know some of them, many are Druids, so not Anglo Saxon in religion at all, but pre Roman. No they are not ethnic centric, all the pre Christian peoples come within their scope.

Steve said that he would be honoured to be the subject of research. We know that because he has told us.

The ancient dead have no such means to tell us of their thoughts.

A few years ago I took part in a dig of round barrow on the Marlborough Downs. The individual we found was clearly was buried in a particular manner, with goods. So we can assume that person and their society had some intentions about the disposal of their remains. I think so far as those intentions can be ascertained, we should respect those intentions. But here is the rub, we only know of their intentions through archaeological research.

It seems to me that we should find some way of respecting the living intentions of the pre Christian dead without stifling research. Not easy I realise, but important things are rarely easy of simple.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 14:39:03 UTC | #587867

Monkey Man's Avatar Comment 27 by Monkey Man

Now the scaffold is high, and eternity's near. She stood in the crowd, and shed not a tear. But some times at night, when the cold wind moans In a long black veil, she cries over my bones

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 15:16:54 UTC | #587882

opposablethumbs's Avatar Comment 28 by opposablethumbs

The ancient dead have no such means to tell us of their thoughts.

The dead don't have thoughts, they had thoughts. The living have thoughts and feelings, which matter; the dead are just dead.

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 15:24:24 UTC | #587888

Marcus Small's Avatar Comment 29 by Marcus Small

Comment 28 by opposablethumbs

The dead don't have thoughts, they had thoughts.

Yes and the question is whether or not their in intentions so far as they can be known should be respected or not.

You seem to be taking the view that their intentions are of no consequence to us.

That is a view, do I agree with it? I don't know.

Others argue that the intentions of the dead should be privileged over the curiosity of the living.

I don't think I agree with that either.

So how is this resolved? Perhaps a referendum?

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 15:38:51 UTC | #587899

Stevezar's Avatar Comment 30 by Stevezar

Comment 14 by mmurray :

Comment 11 by Anvil :

The re-internment of Egyptian Mummies has been put on hold for a few weeks.

Anvil.

I expect at the moment the main threat is a loss of Egyption antiquities into the black market. Michael

Don't worry, I just acquired the deed to the Great Pyramids for $19.95

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 15:53:41 UTC | #587906