Wednesday, February 16, 2011

U.K. Archaeologists Protest Rule Forcing Reburial of Human Remains

United Kingdom archaeologists are protesting a recent change in the licensing of excavations that requires the reburial of any human remains found in England or Wales.

In a letter in the Guardian, 40 leading archaeologists write:
The current licence conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest. The long-term retention of excavated ancient human remains is a fundamental principle of scientific research, regulated by professional ethics and guidelines, and is a museum practice that has been much examined around the world. Curated remains continue to be reanalysed for centuries, as new techniques are developed. Such research makes important contributions to the public's understanding of the lives of the people who came before us; it helps put our own lives into perspective. If the requirement for wholesale reburial remains, Britain risks losing its leading role in archaeology, a decline that will be observed by a mystified international scientific community.

This story is interesting because it smacks of NAGPRA in the United States. I'm not opposed to reburial, but I am an avid supporter of the scientific method and that includes the scientific inspection of remains. Reburial and repatriation can occur, should occur, but scientific inquiry and investigation must be carried out, particularly in remains that are considered ancient i.e. old enough to not reflect modern humanity or modern human groups. In NAGPRA, this repatriation/reburial scenario has seriously affected the study of Clovis Point people who have no relation to modern Native American populations, but are routinely turned over to them for reburial.


Travis, John. 2011. "U.K. Archaeologists Protest Rule Forcing Reburial of Human Remains". Science Magazine. Posted: February 4, 2011. Available online:

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