Human remains from Stonehenge and other ancient settlements will be reburied and lost to science under legislation that threatens to cripple research into the history of humans in Britain, a group of leading archaeologists says today.
In a letter addressed to the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, and printed in the Guardian today, 40 archaeology professors write of their "deep and widespread concern" about the issue.
The dispute centres on legislation introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2008 which requires all human remains excavated at digs in England and Wales to be reburied within two years, regardless of their age. The decision, which amounts to a reinterpretation of law previously administered by the Home Office, means scientists have too little time to study bones and other human remains of national and cultural significance, the academics say.
"Your current requirement that all archaeologically excavated human remains should be reburied, whether after a standard period of two years or a further special extension, is contrary to fundamental principles of archaeological and scientific research and of museum practice," they write. Signatories include Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London; Stephen Shennan, director of University College London's archaeology institute; and Helena Hamerow, head of archaeology at Oxford University.
Read more: Legislation forces archaeologists to rebury finds
Guardian (UK), Friday 4 February 2011
Ian Sample, science correspondent
(what a great name for a science journalist!)
Hat-tip to Caroline Tully