Monday, 28 September 2009

What do we mean by respect?

We have been discussing the meaning of respect on the Pagans for Archaeology mailing list, and whether the dead have rights. (In international law, the dead do not have rights, but we do have responsibilities to them.)

Nick Ford has written an excellent article clarifying his views on the matter:
Honouring the Ancient Dead': The Care of Elderly Souls and the Rights of Bone Fragments to a Quiet Life. Here's an excerpt:
We know little or nothing about nearly all long-dead people - and generically, what can one say of them? That - just to take one example - the Neolithics are the people who gave us climate change and soil erosion through deforestation and over-grazing? The ones who invented open-cast mining?

I see no necessity at all of according the right to treatment of ancient human remains that demonstrates this assumption that the remains of the long-dead are inherently worthy of the kind of romantic veneration advocated by HAD, but rather a question of its arguable desirability. I do not believe there is an epistemology of positive recognition of the long-dead, whether individually or collectively, and remains do not have rights, even if their deposition was accorded a high profile (often, quite literally) at the time. Has anyone ever heard of a patient suing a hospital for custody of an amputated limb, or a dentist for an extracted tooth? (And this, with an indisputable right of possession of the inanimate by the animate).

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