Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Arthur's protest

My response to Arthur's protest at Stonehenge

Context: Arthur's 7-month protest at Stonehenge is mainly in response to the excavations of human remains by the Riverside Project, but also about the re-siting of the visitor centre.

English Heritage held a consultation about where to put the new visitor centre and it is a difficult decision because just about everywhere around Stonehenge is archaeologically sensitive. I responded to that consultation, and Arthur could also have done so if he wished (maybe he did, I don't know). The new location was announced in May 2009, and it takes time to build things, so I am not quite sure of the need for that part of Arthur's protest.

Also, as English Heritage is a quango, it is not "the government".

As far as the remains in the Aubrey Holes are concerned, they were removed from their context and jumbled up in the 1930s (according to what Arthur said), so I am not too sure of the need either to retain them for study, or to rebury them. Presumably if they are being retained for study, there must be something that can be learned from them. Apparently they were in excellent condition and are being studied.

I disagree with the automatic assumption that respect means reburial. Osteoarchaeologists do treat remains with respect, and respect can also mean perpetuating the memory of the ancestors.

Also I think people should refrain from saying, "As Pagans we believe..." because Pagans do not all believe the same things.

13 comments:

Al Iguana said...

He speaks for his mates, and for himself. In that respect, he's free to protest and make a stand (not enough of that these days). BUT the minute he, and people like him, claim to speak for Pagans (in general), he loses all credibility. Pagans can speak for themselves, thanks. I don't remember voting for OBOD, or COBOD, or TND, or ODDBINS or anyone.

Thing is, Arthur, you can't have it both ways. You can't say you're protecting the archaeology and ancestors, and then join 30,000 people in trampling all over it and have bloody Hawkwind playing on it.

And you're not Arthur. If you were, you'd be fighting to keep the English off it :p

fiddleinthesky said...

I also responded to the Stonehenge consultation and after looking at all the options did choose Airman's corner. I spent quite a while looking at all the proposals, this one seemed the best and least intrusive.
As for the reburial issue,I see no problem studying human remains. After all the very people that archaeologists study on these ancient sites had some, to us, strange burial practices. Human remains are often found on settlement sites of the period and bodies were very often disturbed after burial.
And we have no ideas what rituals took place at these burial sites. Is it right to rebury them using modern rituals that were alien to them.
I have noticed that some of these groups claim the remains to be their ancestors and so they should have them back.
Well they are my ancestors too and also ancestors to the archaeologists who study them and of a good proportion of the people living in the UK. The remains of the ancestors belong to us all.
There is also a worrying trend among some to stop digs at sacred sites. I remember the fuss over sea henge. Funny that I have never seen Christians throw themselves over the remains of a Church being excavated by Time Team for instance. In fact it's the Church authorities themselves that often ask Time Team to investigate Christian sites. And digs on theses particular sites are taking place up and down the country with no fuss being made. So why not pre-christian sites. Why should we not dig on them. Have these groups any idea just how may ancient sites are out there. More are found all the time, especially when construction work is taking place. It's almost impossible not to dig them up. Plus if we just leave them treasure hunters will pillage them. This is happening more and more. Even human remains are sold. There have been cases in America where ancient Indian remains are pillaged from sites for private collectors.
This is a worry when it comes to reburial in this country. Some unscrupulous vandal who's after a quick buck might happily dig them up to sell them to the highest bidder. Especially as those who favor reburial will try and get as much publicity as possible from a reburial event.
I'd rather see artifacts and our ancestors remains safe in a museum. There is no reason why a special place can not be made for them and access given to all who wish to pay their respects to the ancestors.

Bo said...

Al--I'm with you on this.

Livia Indica said...

Very well said. I really enjoy reading your educated opinion.

I, too, take some offense when Arthur and his ilk claim to speak for all pagans or all descendants of a particular people. Not only is most of Europe descended from many of those individuals but many of Americans are too. By their reasoning it's just as valid for me to claim those bodies. As Stonehenge was built thousands of years ago the measly 150 years of time since we left the motherlands of Ireland and England means nothing. I'm just as connected to those ancient dead-if you follow their convoluted logic. Which I don't.

If archaeologists stopped studying burials the entire science would be crippled as, I'm sure you know, oftentimes more can be learned from what was buried in the ground than what remained above ground. The cultures the protesters seem to honor so much would be virtually lost and unknown to us without the study of burials. But that's a fact they conveniently leave out of their arguments.

Penny Jackson said...

Pretty much in agreement. An extension of the "As Pagans we believe..." problem is that I get the impression that pagans who want reburial often not only think they speak for all modern pagans but the ones whose bones are being dealt with. A modern pagan reburial may not be anywhere near the religious beliefs of the person who the bones were once part of. I don't know if one of his arguments is that he thinks a pagan burial ceremony is needed, but if it is, I hope this difference is noted.

Geraldine Moorkens Byrne said...

I would like to agree with both the original blog and the comments, especially those left by Al Iguana and Penny Jackson.

Arthur's protest is I'm sure a reflection of his beliefs and opinions but it represents only a tiny minority of pagans. Paganism is not and should not be a sentimental, uninformed eulogy to an invented past. Archaeologists are not the enemies of paganism.

Personally I also find the confusion between Arthurian legend, the Druids and the people who built Stonehenge unfortunate.

Al Iguana said...

the excavations are giving us good and fascinating insight into the Stonehenge peoples:

http://www.eternalidol.com/?p=3461

I wonder if DNA can be extracted from these remains? If Arthur (and others involved in repatriation) would like custody and a legitimate say, let them prove ancestry via DNA test. Simple.

Of course we should honour the peoples of this island: if Stonehenge is indeed (as current consensus seems to say) that Stonehenge is a cemetery, it should be treated with the sensitivity and respect that all cemeteries are given. But to my mind, we honour the "ancestors" much more my telling their stories, not leaving them in the ground.

Yewtree said...

My view is that learning about the ancestors is the best way of showing them respect.

And yes, the people who built Stonehenge were definitely not druids, as they pre-dated the invasion of the Celts by a few thousand years.

Papa Nick said...

Bones are not people, previous occupants are not ancestors, neo-druids are not old-time druids, neolithic humans are not celtic, Arthur Pendragon Senior was not a pagan, Arthur Pendragon Junior is not Arthur Pendragon Senior, modern Paganism is not an old religion, espousal of a set of beliefs is not a title deed of ownership.

CerridwenDragonOak said...

Arthur old friend, I have to agree with Al and fiddle on this.

With all the vitally important global warming issues affecting people now and into the future, can't you find something more relevant to devote your time to?

Yewtree said...

Hi Cerridwen, thanks for your comment. Yes I would have thought that people would do better to devote their campaigning energies to climate change and pollution (that's why I hesitated before starting Pagans for Archaeology, though I do support Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and write emails for their campaigns).

CerridwenDragonOak said...

Hi Yewtree,

I read your reply to mine, and had a browse of the HAD website.

I find the implication that archaeologists are uncaring about the remains we find and "dig up" an outrage. Quite a few of us happen to be Pagan of numerous persuasions and those that aren't tend to be equally respectful of their work. That is a natural consequence of seeking to be a part of this profession.

The best example of museum preservation is the "Swiss" man and his grave goods in Salisbury museum. I am curious what posters feel about this exhibit that has turned this early Stonehenge worker from a forgotten artefact of ancient history into a teacher about his life and life in his era?

Personally, I think he would be honoured and pleased.

I do not think he would be pleased that some publicity seeking contemporary Pagan would lobby to rebury him with his grave goods in a ritual that would quite possibly be alien to his own practices and the language he spoke.

Why can't they just do a ritual over the space where he was found, along with anyone else who feels troubled about this issue?

Yewtree said...

Hi Cerridwen

yes I also find the implication that archaeologists don't care about the remains they dig up to be outrageous. That's one of the reasons that I started Pagans for Archaeology.

You might like to read "What we stand for" if you're new to this discussion.