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.

Comments

  1. #1 Steven Blowney
    May 5, 2011

    Ya know…this morning I saw a City Bus with an advertisement stating that God was returning on May 21…imagine, if you will, rising from the dustbin in Govenment warehouse, and then finding you’ve been excavated by archaeologists.

  2. #2 Phillip IV
    May 5, 2011

    UK practice regarding the treatment of archaeological human remains

    They’re given a peerage and stored in the House of Lords.

  3. #3 Birger Johansson
    May 5, 2011

    “painstakingly scrubbed, washed and dried (to remove any remaining obnoxious analysable adherents that might yield information)” NOOOOOO!!!!!

    The only case where this might be justified is when finding Hitler’s skeleton (to avoid a “Boys from Brazil” scenario)

    — — — — —
    “landfill eventually, when the overarching (non-archae) Govt. Dept. had a clearout?”
    Although we are all distant descendants of Archaea, we are also all non-Archaeans (ie eucaryote metazoans). Yes, I know many government ministers, administrators etc barely seem to be beyond the slime mold stage.
    — — — —
    (Maybe useful for archaeology) Targeting leftover land mines: New smartphone-aided technology makes dangerous task easier
    http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-leftover-smartphone-aided-technology-dangerous-task.html

    Treasures lost and found
    http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-treasures-lost.html

  4. #4 CherryBombSim
    May 6, 2011

    In the US, lately, it seems to be standard practice to assume that any human remains are the sacred lineal ancestors of whoever happens to be living there now. No point in ‘splaining people that anybody 10,000 years old is either: a) everybody’s ancestor, or b) nobody’s ancestor.

  5. #5 Birger Johansson
    May 8, 2011

    “In the US, lately, it seems to be standard practice to assume that any human remains are the sacred lineal ancestors of whoever happens to be living there now”

    Fortunately, this stupid assumption is unworkable in Europe, since everyone has been conquering everyone else ever since the bronze axe was invented 4000 years ago, and probably before then as well.

    (OT) “10 Bits of Norse Myth You Probably Won’t See in Thor”

    http://www.themarysue.com/10-bits-of-norse-myth-you-probably-wont-see-in-thor/?pid=161

  6. #6 Birger Johansson
    May 9, 2011

    (OT) Just in: Fukushima accident “unavoidable”

    The Swedish Royal Academy of Engineering Science has had a seminar about Fukushima, where the German association VGB has released its findings.
    http://www.iva.se/press/Kalendarium/The-nuclear-accident-in-Fukushima/
    Unfortunately I have not yet found any English summary of the seminar.
    Basically, Japan is hit on average every thirty years by tsunamis big enough to breach the dykes protecting the Fukushima nuclear plants. Thank you, planners, for thinking of that. Not.

  7. #7 Benjie
    May 10, 2011

    @CherryBombSim
    Hey, it’s better than Israel. Apparently they automatically assume every human found is Jewish and immediately re-bury them so that they can burrow to Jerusalem when the Messiah comes.