The other day asked what UK practice regarding the treatment of archaeological human remains has been like in recent decades. Dear Reader Dustbubble gave such a good answer that I must promote it to guest-entry status.
Martin sez “.. But what, then, was the practice like between 1857 and 2008?”
Well from personal experience, in the last quarter of the C20th it would be infinitely carefully excavated and drawn/photogged in situ (did you know that a well-preserved adult skeleton, if arranged in the now-traditional urban mediaeval digger’s fashion, fits perfectly in a two-gallon builder’s bucket?), equally painstakingly scrubbed, washed and dried (to remove any remaining obnoxious analysable adherents that might yield information), squinted at cursorily along with dozens, if not hundreds of its companeros, by a harassed postgrad student while laid out on a civil service utility table (the skelly, that is) to see if there are any particularly outstanding deformities or injuries, dumped in the largest size of minigrip bag or just straight into the regulation Stationery Office brown cardboard box, if they were lucky along with a manila label with some unique-to-the-excavation-director code on it, and consigned to “long term storage” (metal racking in a damp tin shed on some godforsaken industrial estate).
I dunno, landfill eventually, when the overarching (non-archae) Govt. Dept. had a clearout?
Mind you, the original Proprietors had “variable” attitudes. One lot we had stolen at night from the freshly-prepared-for-piccies graves by the housebuilder (sand site, utter carnage, might as well (in fact did) pack up and go home).
And then there was Minister of the Established Church who leapt the wall of the (disused for centuries, just a grass field) med. cem., in high dudgeon at our presumptuous interference with the millennial repose of his parishioners (obviously just chucked Official Gubmint Mail straight in the bin).
On learning that the reason for the lack of headstones was that these were (1)Very Old and (2)irremediably catholic he did a complete volte-face, and barked in shock “What?! Catholics!!? Get them out of my graveyard! Now!!
A long, gentle, and incomprehending-on-the cleric’s-part explanation of subjects such as .. the Reformation had to follow, from our urbane and ever-civil director.
This lot were eventually (like, years and years later) reburied in nice wooden caskets, surprisingly. Politics …
In short, a bit of a shambles, I suspect. Like everything in this country.