Yesterday in the UK, the Guardian newspaper published a letter directed toward Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on behalf of 41 angry archaeological professionals highlighting their discontent with recent changes to certain policies that necessitate the reburial of all excavated human remains from England and Wales.
Suggesting that the changes to the legislation are detrimental to the scientific study of the remains, the archaeologists argue that “the long-term retention of excavated ancient human remains is a fundamental principle of scientific research” and imply that short-term research misses the advantage of future analysis.
The archaeologists casually overlook the fact that skeletal remains are the physical remnants of human being and seemingly disregard any sort of respect for the solemnity of a burial site. Citing their pride, the writers pronounce that “Britain risks losing its leading role in archaeology” in such a way that insinuates that the flattery of their egos exceeds the importance of the respect for the deceased: “a decline that will be observed by a mystified international scientific community.”
While such a law would undoubtedly consolidate the amount of active sites and prevent researchers from taking on more than they could thoroughly research within a two year period, the scientists who composed the letter express a distinct curiosity about the reasoning for the changes enacted in 2008: “this requirement is not specified in the relevant act and Mr. Clarke has not explained his reasoning.”
Americans afford more protection and care for discovered remains in the respect that it offers excavated remains to those who can claim ancestral ties. Strict Federal laws and procedural guidelines protect ancient burial sites and human remains in the United States via the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) which delineates a “Priority of Custody” for remains.
More specifically, when a burial site or remains are found, Massachusetts law enlists the help of the state archaeologist who “shall immediately notify the commission on Indian affairs” and takes the extra step beyond that of the aforementioned British archaeologists to respect and preserve the sanctity of a burial ground: “A town shall not alienate or appropriate to any other use than that of a burial ground, any tract of land which has been for more than one hundred years used as a burial place.” According to Massachusetts law, a burial place is defined as “remains of one or more American Indian”
Rest assured that rather than being surrendered to science indefinitely as the 41 British archaeologists prefer, any ancient bodily remnants found in the Boston area and throughout the Commonwealth are sure to be treated humanely and with proper respect for ancestral heritage and religious beliefs.