Friday, January 23, 2009

Gallimaufry with Old Bones

¶ Some British Pagans want to rebury a 4,000-year-old skeleton. It seems to me that they are just parroting NAGRPA language without realizing that (to borrow from another blogger) that the Archbishop of Canterbury has as much "blood" claim to the bones as they do.

¶ George Plimpton was an American writer of what was once called "new journalism" and is now called creative nonfiction. But this article about him in The Nation also points out to what extent famous literary journals were subsidized by the CIA as part of the culture war with the Soviet Union. Who says our government does not support the arts?

¶ Anne Hill defines "California Cosmology" and its evil twin.

Apparently "analog" now means "natural." I missed that.

So is the “planetary consciousness” of neotribal gatherings like Boom just window dressing for the same old hedonistic consumption and pursuit of distraction? Perhaps. But as a self-consciously visionary environment, Boom necessarily foreshadowed the apocalypse as much as the eco-dream.

¶ A wall painting at the Neolithic town of Catal Huyuk was often called the world's oldest map. But what if it is not a map at all? Would that mean that map-making was not practiced by "peaceful ancient matriarchies" but was invented by them evil Kurgans?

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Blogger Rombald said...

I don't think these Druids' position can be dismissed as easily as you think:

1. True, in biological terms, the bones are no more their ancestors than anyone else's, but that might also apply to Native American bones. The issue is one of cultural/tribal affiliation, not biology.

2. There is a partial analogy between British working-class people and New World natives, in that the British peasantry were largely evicted from their ancestral lands, in the Enclosures, Highland Clearances, etc. I think you might have missed some of the nuances here - about access to land, etc.

3. Even apart from entative "tribal" claims, exhibiting human remains is a bit disgusting. The exhibition of huge numbers of mummies in the British Museum is pretty vile, even though modern, Muslim Egyptians might not care less.

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


1. How does a follower of a new religious movement claim that he or she "knows" more about someone from 4,000 years ago. If anything, that is a theological claim. Let's hope that English Heritage does not attempt to do theology.

Your point #2 is tangential. While land issues play a part in NAGPA claim, no one is saying that they have anything whatsoever to do with these English reburial issues.

Rather, contemporary Druids, followers of a new religious movement, are attempting to borrow NAGPRA rhetoric in order to increase their profile in the UK.

3. Not if you are doing science.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Aron said...

I remember seeing an article a few years ago about some British pagans' opposition to excavations at megalithic sites; I believe the same arguments were being used then.
Digging up one's own ancestors to learn about one's own pre-Christian heritage (which was taken away by one's own intervening ancestors) is not quite the same as Euro-Americans' digging up the graves of the people they just exterminated.

I wonder how many of these anti-excavation pagans worship Cernunnos, Whose name is known only from the archeological record?

Oh yeah- "Hawk" and "Lydia"? Did the reporter just garble his information about the Druids' names, or do they really claim to know the identities of their "ancestors"? Was there a 4,000 year-old ogham inscription on the femur?

10:59 PM  
Blogger Yewtree said...

There might be an analogy between the Highland clearances and the Enclosures and the theft of Native American tribal lands; but that in no way gives this tiny minority of druids a claim on these bones, as they are no more descended from dispossessed medieval farmers than the rest of us who DON'T want the bones reburied.

Also, ancient peoples displayed bones; the squeamishness about it seems to me to be purely modern; and I think there are far more pressing issues to be worried about, like the destruction of the environment, social inequalities, the persecution of contemporary tribal peoples, etc.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Rombald said...

I can't really make my mind up about this issue. There's a website that discusses it at length:

The remains of Christians are treated with more respect than those of pagans. No-one casually digs up churchyards. If anything, however, the level of respect should be opposite, because Christianity devalues the material world, and is a foreign religion, in principle unconnected with the land, whereas most paganism is a thusness religion, concerned with specific places and people.

Another point is that the National Trust and English Heritage, notwithstanding some good conservation work, have a history of extreme arrogance in dealing with local people and anyone whose values are in any way non-mainstream. The druid group in question is making a forceful case for a different perspective.

If shamans, druids, etc., claim to be neo-indigenes, is that all that different from Native Americans trying to recreate a religion that may have been lost for 150 years?

The issue about land rights does link with that of the treatment of the dead. Landowners think they can with impunity destroy archaeological sites (and sites of natural importance), and archaeology gives them a supportive ideology, as archaeologists study the findings, so no "information" has been lost. Archaeology involves a lot of anti-holistic, monotheistic assumptions. This also links with the closing of public footpaths - these are England's only relic of the precapitalist understanding that no-one owned land, but just had use-rights. In the UK, as in much of Europe, disconnection with land and place was partly involuntary, and, as paganism is largely concerned with this connection, I think it is a good thing for it to to be involved in this fight, and to have class consciousness when dealing with elite organisations.

4:25 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


We are talking about archaeology, but it seems that you want to talk about contemporary land-use issues.

You are off-topic.

On the other hand, since you have a Blogger profile, why don't you start a blog? You could bash English Heritage left and right.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Aron said...

"They claim that remains in the museum include their ancestors Hawk, from the ancient Order of the Sidhe, and Lydia, Swordbearer of the Glastonbury Outer Order of Druids."

Ok, I just looked on the COBDO website, and I see that Hawk of the Order of the Sidhe is one of the current, living Druids involved in this dispute. I read the above quote to mean that he was one of the purported ancestors. Which is what it actually says...
Still, I feel a just a little stupid. Oops.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Steve Bodio said...

Different thread: I have seen those mountains behind Catal Huyuk and they look almost photographically like the ones in the "map"-- can send you a photos.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


Clouds can look like mountains too. The point is to ask whether we have taken a "masssaged" version of the image as the real deal all these years, along with the pronouncement by experts that it was the "world's earliest map."

Or is it like Sir Arthur Evans' Minoan statues and buildings?

Or the cave image of the famous "shaman" of Trois Freres, another image usually seen in its "improved" vision?

11:50 AM  
Blogger The Pagan Temple said...

Okay, I have a question here, that might be somewhat pertinent. Are these remains 4000 years old? If so, is it a certainty that they are "Druid" bones to begin with? Can they even be demonstrated to be contemporaneous with the Druids? If so, is it still a certainty that they are Druids? Is there any identifying characteristics of the remains that might point to such a conclusion?

I don't think that all peoples during the time of the Druids were necessarily members of the order, which I think was an exclusive one.

Finally, I think four thousand years, if that is their age, puts them a few centuries before the time of the Druids, maybe even a millennium or more, though I don't know for sure about that.

All that being said, I think a rational compromise would be to allow for an interval necessary to examine the bones, and then to allow for a re-internment. It shouldn't take that long. After three or four years I would think they would learn all that could possibly be gleaned from them. It just is not that vital to keep them on public display, in my opinion.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Clare Slaney said...

So many issues, so little room . . .

Class issues infest almost every aspect of British life. In this Druish case, a tiny weeny minority of Droods are attempting to dominate other Druids, the bones, EH, NT and the Land.

Although there has long been a Pagan debate on the use and display of human remains in archaeology, until very recently it's been a minority interest from people who feel no need for publicity.

EH and NT are fantastic landowners and landmanagers. They accomodate all kinds of rude people who contribute nothing apart from an identity dedicated to protest.

Pagan identity is founded on archaeology and pseudo-archaeology.

If the bones are reburied, some other extreme group will claim mystical connection and dig them up; context will be lost; future scientific methods won't be able to be used (because of contamination of a different context.)

There is a huge amount of Pagan disgust in the UK re this issue and the egos involved, which doesn't seem to get the same coverage.

3:06 PM  

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