Tuesday, 10 February 2009

new CBA book on human remains

Human Remains in Archaeology: A Handbook
by Charlotte A Roberts

This book, no 19 in the CBA Practical Handbook series, provides the very latest guidance on all aspects of the recovery, handling and study of human remains. It beings by asking why we should study human remains, and the ethical issues surrounding their recovery, analysis and curation, along with consideration of the current legal requirements associated with the excavation of human remains in Britain.
Note that it also covers the ethical considerations surrounding human remains.

I hope that it also covers in some depth the arguments for retaining human remains for study, such as:
  • the constant development of new techniques for studying them, such as the recent study of dental plaque by Karen Hardy which showed what plants people were eating and helps to build up a picture of their lifestyles;
  • changing interpretations of previous studies, giving rise to the need to reinterpret pathologies of remains, such as the controversy over whether bog bodies were "human sacrifices" or murder victims or executed criminals (this controversy should be of importance to Pagans, because one of the most frequently repeated slanders of ancient pagans is the idea that they regularly sacrificed human beings);
  • examining previously unexamined parts of the remains, such as dental calculus; or in the case of Ötzi the 'Iceman', it was 10 years after the discovery of his body that X-ray revealed the arrow wound that was the cause of his death. Had he been re-buried this (and much else) would not have been revealed.
  • the opportunity to build up a detailed picture of the life stories, religious practices, diet, travels, illnesses and customs of communities and individuals in the past, purely from bone analysis;
  • the fact that people of the past wanted to be remembered, not consigned to oblivion.

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