Friday, April 08, 2016

On digging up the dead

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: When Is It Okay To Dig Up The Dead? Human bones tell stories that would otherwise be lost to history. But archaeologists are increasingly confronted with demands to let past generations rest in peace (Mark Strauss, National Geographic). This article has a sensible and sensitive discussion of the full range of issues surrounding the question of archaeological excavation and study of human remains. Without wanting to oversimplify, I am in basic agreement with this:
Some bioarchaeologists are staunchly opposed to returning bones to the ground. Duncan Sayer, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire, writes, “The destruction of human remains prevents future study; it is the forensic equivalent of book burning, the willful ruin of knowledge.”
But that does not exclude trying to find creative ways to accommodate the wishes of indigenous groups and (more cogently) direct descendants who feel they have a stake in the fate of the remains.

Another post on this subject, in which I give my own views and suggestions in greater detail, is here.