The Geekish Tomboy (boudiceaborn) wrote in archaeological,

Notice: English Heritage call for comments regarding repatriation request

The  Council of British Druid Orders (CoBDO) have submitted a request to English Heritage for two collections of human skeletons, excavated from the Avebury area in southern England, to be reburied.

A summary of their request:
"The Council’s requests for reburial broadly fit into 3 categories:
1. Ethics – display and storage as immoral and disrespectful
2. Belief – that human remains contain and connect to the spirit of ancestor that, through decay, become part of the landscape
3. Genetic relationship – mtDNA (female) providing an unbroken link between our ancestors and people today, thereby supporting our request for reburial under guidelines provided by the DCMS.
These 3 categories suggest CoBDO’s ethical claim for reburial may be supported by articles 9 and 10 of the Human Rights Act. This Council wish to make clear that the continued withholding of our ancestral remains against the requests of the Council severs the connection between ancestor, land and Druid. We view reburial as essential to the healing of ancestral landscapes and therefore to Druid identity. In summary, reburial corrects the injustices unknowingly carried out by archaeologists and museums in the past."

This is a test case for the Druids to gain a precedent for more repatriations all over the British isles, and it is over an extremely significant set of remains associated with the Stonehenge World Heritage site. English Heritage has produced a draft report detailing several options for how to proceed, and has opened up a 3 month period for comment and review before a final decision is made.

Please, read the report and use the online form to report your opinion.

My own personal opinion:
The CoBDO makes no claim that they are the cultural descendants of these remains, and indeed there is no possibility that they are. Modern druidism makes an attempt to emulate ancient religion, but there's simply not enough known about its practice. Many populations descending from western Europe are equally genetically related to these remains, and this is the cultural patrimony of all of them. Most British and European citizens do not express any religious or ethical reservations about preserving ancient remains in museums or submitting them to archaeological analysis. A small religious movement with no justifiable claim cannot be allowed to preempt the cultural heritage of an entire continent.
Additionally, I really question the existence of "injustices unknowingly carried out by archaeologists and museums in the past." Are these injustices perpetuated against modern Druids? The ancient ones? Who decides whether an archaeological analysis or interpretation is an injustice? These remains are 4-5,000 years old. There is no cultural continuity and no historical records, so any claims to be representing the skeletons are spurious at best. Yes, there is the point that if these people wanted to be kept above ground they wouldn't have been found in burials. However. It's never the dead that bury themselves, all funerary rites are provided by the living. Can we ever really be sure that the treatment of remains would have been approved of by the individual themself? Believing in a reconstituted pagan religion should not make one person's opinion worth more than any other, and as long as British people express a curiosity and enthusiasm about archaeological investigations into their ancestors, it should be permitted.
I generally support the repatriation of Native American remains, because in that case you have a real, historically-documented case of oppression and cultural hegemony. There is also a much clearer oral tradition in regards to correct burial practice and creation myths relating to sacred places (although admittedly these often do not extend as far back in time as the remains do). In contrast, the CoBDO was instituted in 1988 to gain access to Stonehenge for yearly ceremonies. That's an appropriate use of religious prerogative (requesting your own rights to a place, not denying the rest of the population their legitimate access). I don't think the "connection between ancestor, land and Druid" should be given more consideration than the cultural interest of the rest of the British people, especially when they are just as much descendants as any Druid is.
 
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