Friday, 4 February 2011

Law Change Appeal - Reburial requirement impedes archaeology

"We have written to justice secretary Kenneth Clarke to express our concern about conditions imposed on the archaeological excavation of human remains, which occurs under licence from the Ministry of Justice. Recently issued licences require the reburial of all human remains from England and Wales, however ancient. This requirement is not specified in the relevant act and Mr Clarke has not explained his reasoning. We wish to return to the simple, well-tried system practised up to 2008 which permitted the retention, study, curation and display of excavated remains as appropriate.

The current licence conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest. The long-term retention of excavated ancient human remains is a fundamental principle of scientific research, regulated by professional ethics and guidelines, and is a museum practice that has been much examined around the world. Curated remains continue to be reanalysed for centuries, as new techniques are developed. Such research makes important contributions to the public's understanding of the lives of the people who came before us; it helps put our own lives into perspective. If the requirement for wholesale reburial remains, Britain risks losing its leading role in archaeology, a decline that will be observed by a mystified international scientific community.

Sir Barry Cunliffe CBE FBA, Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology University of Oxford
Professor Geoffrey Wainwright MBE, former Chief Archaeologist, English Heritage
Professor Andrew Chamberlain, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
Professor Julian Henderson, Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham
Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Bit of a strange one this – I’ve not seen the changes in the legislation so not sure what the new ruling is.  Personally I sit on the fence when it comes to human remains.  As an archaeologist I’m keen to learn about ancient peoples and civilisations and understand the need to look at the physiology from bone remains.  As a person though I understand that these burials meant a lot to the people who buried them and we must respect that part of our heritage too.  Keeping bones in boxes is not always the best policy. Dave C

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