Thursday, 23 June 2011

Wednesday Class

Last night I took my class through the process of excavating a wall to show the correct sequence of digging a series of layers and a strucutre. We also looked at disinterring a skeleton. This poses some difficult questions for archaeologists and the public. None of us like the thought of disturbing the dead, no matter what religion we follow or none. Past people were just like us and we wouldn't like to be dug up at some point in the future. And then there is the question of displaying bodies in museums. Many millions of people have gone to the British Museum and seen the Egyptian mummies or the Lindow Man bog-body. I find it difficult to defend the showing of bodies in museums because, to be blunt, it is all about morbid curiosity. Modern people have very little contact with the process of death and the dead, but for our ancestors it was a present, every day reality. So modern people have a heightened need to be close to, but also removed from, death. That is not a good enough reason for showing dead people in museums.

For archaeologists it is more cut and dried. If we didn't dig them up before the developers built there structure the bodies would end up destroyed or just moved without record. We can then look at the pathology etc and store them until re-interment. However, there is legislation being proposed that would make it mandatory to re-inter after two years; not very useful for specialists trying to gain some insight into populations of the past that can take many years, if not decades.


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