Human Remains: Grateful Dead

By Kohn, Marek | New Statesman (1996), November 6, 2006 | Go to article overview

Human Remains: Grateful Dead


Kohn, Marek, New Statesman (1996)


Weighed down by ethical, cultural and political dilemmas over what to do with human remains, museum curators have called in Druids. This month, Manchester Museum will host a conference on "Respect for Ancient British Human Remains: philosophy and practice". It is jointly organised by Piotr Bienkowski, the museum's deputy director, and Emma Restall Orr, head of the Druid Network and founder of an organisation called Honouring the Ancient Dead (Had).

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"Acknowledging that European pagans do have a remit is something we in Manchester care deeply about," Bienkowski says.

Had's council members--"pagan theologians", as Restall Orr describes them--seek to ensure that the remains of "pagan races" in Britain are treated with respect. They take their cue from the indigenous peoples' groups in Australia and America that have pressed for the "repatriation" of human remains, mostly dating from colonial times. For Ancient Britons, Had suggests "repatriation", or at least relocation to their "tribal landscape". Writing about Lindow Man, whose preserved remains were discovered in a bog near Manchester and placed on display in the British Museum, Restall Orr asks: "Why is this ancient Cheshire man in London?" That the question can be seriously asked is a measure of how far the politics of repatriation have permeated museum curators' concerns. …

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