Category Archives: Reburial Campaign
The new Stonehenge Visitor Center – Display of the ancient dead
Recently in the news was the discovery of a skeleton in a Leicester car park. This is how it was reported by the BBC:
“A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.
Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.
Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”
Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral.”
This astonishing discovery of an English King was of great interest to scientists, historians and the public and responsibly many tests were conducted to find out about the health of this King before he died and the nature of his wounds. Doubtless the good people of Leicester could have opened a museum and drawn in tourist dollars by displaying the remains of this unfortunate ancestor, however this is not to be. This is a Christian period King and so his dignity and rank are being respected, and he is to be given a dignified burial befitting his status in life at Leicester Cathedral.
Death is not so peaceful for many of the great founders of our people who were born to pre-history or who chose to be other than Christians. For them, abandonment in boxes in museum and University basements, endless scientific analysis removal and destruction of body parts, or worst of all – BEING DISPLAYED – in the name of education but essentially to draw in the punters to museums and visitor centers.
In 2008 Sheffield University River Side Project excavated human remains from Stonehenge. These particular remains had already been disturbed by science in the 1920’s, stored under an archaeologists bed at home, then for a few years in a potting shed, before being mixed together in a sack and reburied into ‘Aubrey Hole 7’ at Stonehenge. The licence given by the Dept of Justice to remove these remains was under a Victorian law that allowed for the reuse of graveyards and the removal and re-interment of the bodies within two years as close as possible to the place of original burial.
Who were these people? Prof Mike Parker Pearson describes them as the ruling elite of Britain, or members of the priest cast, at the time of Stonehenge. The Druids at the time were OK with the idea of our priestly ancestors remains being studied for a brief time so long as they would be returned to their resting place in Aubrey Hole 7 and afterwards left in peace. We were reassured by English Heritage and the Riverside Project that our fears these remains would be taken from Stonehenge indefinitely were groundless. They pointed us at the licence terms.
I contacted the Dept of Justice to find out about these ‘Section 25’ licences as they are known. I asked them why it is, if all archaeological removals of human remains from the site of their discovery are issued under this same licence, that ancient remains are rarely reburied and our Universities and Museum stores are literally overflowing with them. The answer was that in many cases an extension would be requested, granted, and then no further track of them was being maintained.
A peculiarity of English law is that no-one actually can own a dead body. Not the state, not the family and not the scientists. To steal away a body isn’t therefore illegal as no-one had possession of it. Towards the end of the two years of authorized for the study of the Aubrey Hole 7 remains, I discovered that Sheffield had applied for an extension of five years. In their justification they stated that no-one today would regard these ancestors as sacred. What!? After two years of Druids expressing anxiety about the loss of our sacred ancestors they were surely joking. Apparently not.
I wrote a 37 page objection to the extension on behalf of ‘Aes Dana Grove’ and also to represent the views of another group ‘The Loyal Arthurian Warband’. This was effective in so far as it resulted in the Dept of Justice granting a five year extension but stating clearly that at the end of that time, the Druids wishes should be respected. A victory, if honored. Yet the archaeologists were outraged at this and have demanded a change in the law in their favor. Mis information was spread about our being anti science and ignorant.
With the imminent completion in 2013 of a new Stonehenge visitor center we note that English Heritage plan to display the human remains of ancestors removed from the Stonehenge landscape by archaeologists over the decades of desecration and more professional excavations of recent years.
A spokesman for English Heritage said: “The remains of three human burials found in the landscape will be displayed with ample explanation along with archaeological objects, providing visitors with a direct connection to the people who lived and worked there.
“We believe they have a rightful place in the exhibition and their presentation, treatment and storage will follow strict guidelines set out by the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Visitors will also be made aware of the display before they enter the exhibition.
“Visitor research also shows that the vast majority of museum visitors are comfortable with, and often expect to see, human remains as part of displays.”
I’m not convinced that English Heritage have anything more in mind than maximizing revenue from the new visitor center. In my opinion it is wrong to put the remains of human beings on display, it is offensive and lacking in respect for the very people whose achievements the visitor center is supposed to celebrate. To inform and educate we can show video and replicas of the remains without any need to desecrate someones rest and make of them a macabre display for the entertainment of casual tourists. It also robs Stonehenge of part of its enduring magic.
The greatest draw to Stonehenge is its magic and mystery. The science of how heavy the stones are or how they were moved comes a very poor second to the tourist or the pilgrim. It would surely be far more wonderful to display to a visitor “here is an exact replica of what we found, the original was reburied with honor at Stonehenge, by the mysterious Druids and others who still follow the old religion today’. The visitor would leave feeling impressed that England is still a magical country with a spiritual and respectful people. Instead, they will see us treating our sacred ancestors as a commodity with which to raise money.
They will leave wondering how such a once great people as the British have fallen so far.
Archaeologists gloat over failure to get JR.
Following Arthurs high court request for a Judicial Review over the ancestors, being declined, Mike Pitts (editor of Archaeology Magazine, advisor to EH and member of the Riverside Project) has made comment on his Blog.
Please note that he claims that under new guidelines he may be able to keep the Stonehenge Ancestors ‘indefinitely’.
Is this evidence of more backroom dealings without any public consultation to appease the archaeological lobby?
It might surprise you to learn that many Druids, and I include myself in this, share your disgust at people climbing the stones and leaving the site a mess after solstice. I could add that for a minority, alcohol or drug abuse and bad behaviour add to a sense of violation of the sacred space. The Druids have to work within boundaries set for us by English Heritage and have no special means by which to police the behaviour of visitors to Solstice who pretty much can trample all over us also. We who go for genuine spiritual reasons do our best to keep some dignity and to serve others in such capacity as we are able.
If we had no other reason at all to challenge the validity public benefit and morality of these digs, the very fact that tax payers money has been spent on them gives us that right. Solstice celebrations are paid from a very small fraction of the revenue generated by Stonehenge each year, and so does not cost the tax payer directly.
I believe that you have in common with Arthur a strong desire to be associated with Stonehenge, you wish to speak as a representative of the archaeological cause and he speaks for his own interpretation of the Druid cause. You are both media aware and articulate people, but where the Druids stand at a distinct disadvantage in this debate is that the archaeological world has people in positions of considerable influence placed within the public bodies who should be regulating your activities and independently finding the point of reasonable balance between points of view.
Archaeology has the resources of commercial archaeology companies, funded organisations and Royal Societies with political influence. You have money, lawyers, full time helpers and access directly to advise the authorities and guide policy. The advantage is yours. It is so to such an extent that the fervor with which you have campaigned to mitigate the very slight risk that just this once you should have to compromise with those outside of this elite club in my opinion almost amounts to bullying.
You say that we have been consulted. We were not informed that the policy of interpretation of the Burial Act 1857 is now to give archaeologists unlimited access to our ancestors. That you now suggest you might be able to keep these Stonehenge ancestors from reburial indefinitely fully vindicates Arthur and myself for disbelieving EH three years ago when they told us not to worry, we would get our ancestors returned last year, or Mike Parker Pearson when he informed us that his research would complete on time, or the archaeological community who would like to be seen to be honourable.
In your book Hengeworld you tell the story of Archaeology at Stonehenge and of the reckless damage, loss of information, loss of finds, failure to document that 100 years of trusting the ‘experts’ has wrought on this precious place. It has a great value in illuminating our prehistoric capabilities only matched by its continuing worth as a sacred place of the ancestors and those today who revere them. A balance should be found between these two, and we have sought throughout to find compromise only to discover that leading lights like yourself have presented this as being the end of your livelihoods.
Arthur likes to give the impression that he is the one leading opposition to this violation against truth, but there are others not so encumbered by the need to grandstand who if it takes a further hundred years will undo this wrong. Archaeologists have missed a great opportunity in your haste to mock the Druids and escape legal constraints. The real reason that so much harm has been done to Stonehenge by archaeology has been that projects are not being adequately funded and once granted licence have not been properly regulated.
We would support the riverside project in this research being completed quickly and recorded properly, two years of study would have been more than adequate had they been funded only to provide one part time student to study these remains. We want them reburied, in sealed containers that would preserve them for future research if justified but also achieve their return to the Earth at Stonehenge.
We have never suggested that no research should take place.
If you dare to question the common assumption that Druids have a start date 1600 years after Stonehenge was constructed, and therefore having no connection with it, then you might discover that it is not at all as well supported by the actual evidence as it is convenient as an argument to isolate people with Druidical beliefs of today from being granted any legitimacy which they might use to challenge the exploitation of Stonehenge. The evidence contrary to this ‘disconnection theory’ comes from the world of science and points now to Druids having been established long before they were written about by classical observers and who’s beliefs were founded upon a blend of Celtic and Pre Celtic perspectives.
A judicial review would have benefitted all sides in this debate, and would have been very much in the public interest.
It would have allowed the reburial / spiritual community an opportunity to present the reasons why a balance between the needs of science and the needs of the spiritual community could be made to work without harm to ethers position, and might even lead towards better understanding and cooperation. We have throughout our campaign been generous in our general praise of Mike Parker Pearson for the quality of his work and our regard for the potential benefits of his archaeology. We would have contrasted this with the harm done by under funding and the lack of central recording of evidence available to the public in who’s interests it should serve.
You would have also had the opportunity to speak about the benefits of archaeological work, of the need for proper funding, and to have shown sensitivity to the legitimate spiritual concerns held by so many people of so many faiths regarding this issue. Instead you seem to be gloating over your ability to do as you wish answering to no-one. You are showing the world that the attitude of British Archaeology today has not advanced so very far from that of the treasure hunters of bygone times who travelled the world taking whatever they wished.
How will history and more enlightened generations look at you?