Monday, December 8, 2008

Reburial

A modern Druid pagan organisation is calling for the reburial of a child's female skeleton at Avebury. The skeleton is on show in the Keiller Museum, and was found in the base of the outer ditch on Windmill Hill. According to the book "Harmony of Symbols" - Causewayed Enclosure of Windmill Hill", it was Veronica Keiller who carefully uncovered the skeleton in 1925 and there is a photo in the book of it lying in its original position.
There is something poignant about children's bones from thousands of years ago, we think as parents and grandparents of the bright chatter and movement of young life but can we truthfully go along with 'new age' thinking on this.
In the ditch there was evidence of other human bones, also animal bones are seen as having something ritual in their burial. For instance there was a child's femur stuck in the hollow of an ox's bone, and there are also skulls of ox and goat buried in a symbolic fashion, also horncore.
At Beckhampton and South Street longbarrows, animal remains are found, at Beckhampton the skull and hooves, making it likely that the hides of the animals were buried.
This has something to do with the belief system of the time, a need for regeneration, therefore by committing, something to the earth it would be hoped that it would be renewed. So in another burial of a male skeleton on Windmill Hill, the grave is interpreted by the archaeologists as being left open for the flesh to rot away from the bones - excarnation; they become ancestor bones, to be used in ritual and ceremony, and some bones from Windmill Hill have been found down in West Kennet Longbarrow.

So it leads back to the question do Druids have a right to call these neolithic bones ancestors to themselves, thereby taking 'charge' of an old belief system and incorporating it into their own, and such thinking can be seen in the following statement.......
"Ritual would be an important part of any act of reburial. If the bones came from what is clearly a Christian provenance, then a Christian priest may be concerned to have Pagan priests make a ritual. However, those of no clear provenance, and those older than 1500 years old, should have ritual crafted by Pagan priests, priests who honour the land and the ancestors, simply." Taken from a Theology of Reburial by Emma Restall Orr.

As a person who also loves nature and the land I am quite happy to see the burial of people without any due acknowledgment of ritual or ceremony, Orr sees each of us as having a 'song/soul' of all our experiences, our ancestry is inexplicably mixed together in a whole experience of our being, both spirital and physical. The 'soul' part that is given to many religions is to a degree separated from the physical body, leading as it does in the Christian faith to an intepretation of suffering on this earth to achieve the higher balance of heaven.

"all of nature is interwoven, existing in ecosystems of place, linked through bloodlines, through interdependencies of symbioses, touching along lines of histories and memories." Orr

The symbiotic thread of nature is well understood, that is why we see the catastrophic decline of the natural word today, we are destroying the strands that link one part of nature to another, but can we really use this metaphor between the human body and soul to address the question of burying prehistoric bones under the formulaic ritual of a 'pagan' revival, that has happened within the last few years. For a start there are many bones out there, and often in a singular state, they do not represent the 'whole' person, they are the fragments of bodies carelessly thrown down. If we were to bring these prehistoric people back to life, would they even begin to understand the conceptual idea that they were pagans, can you annexe a people and then claim them for your own? The answer I think is no, our common inheritance is humanity, religion and ritual have been tacked on through the ages, and each religion should be left to its own.....

An article by Dr.Jenny Blain and Dr.Robert Wallis on the subject...
http://www.honour.org.uk./node/27

3 comments:

  1. I think I agree with you here. As a matter of fact I don't think burials of any description should be disturbed anyway. No-one would dream of digging up a body buried 50 years ago and doing all kinds of tests on it then displaying it in a museum or putting it in a box in a storeroom. As far as I'm concerned all burials should have the same respect shown to them whether they are 5 or 5000 years old. I'm afraid the 'adds to our knowledge of the past' mantra doesn't wash with me. The fact remains that these were real people and their relatives would have been horrified by the disturbance whatever their beliefs. A contentious subject of course - I'm afraid I shouldn't be hogging your comments space with it. Feel free to delete it if you think it is inappropriate.

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  2. Hi Rowan, no the whole point of comment is that people should speak out, whether for or against. Its just that today I came up with the news that this 'Charlie' skeleton to be reburied at Avebury. I had to argue it out with myself first to see where I was going ;).
    There's an EH consultation on the subject of reburial at the moment....

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  3. It's a difficult one. Respect plays a large part in it and shouldn't be lessened just because the bones are old and of scientific interest. However . . . their examination can say so much about the communities they came from and help us understand them. But I think it is more apt that they underwent a pagan reburial after they have told their story (and NOT a Christian service!)

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