Saturday, October 28, 2006

About the project

I am currently working on a project on reburial of ancient human remains. A few years ago, my position on this was broadly that ancient pagan skeletons should get the same respectful treatment as old Christian ones. But what do we mean by respect? Reburial? Repatriation (if they come from abroad)? Memory? Appropriate ritual?

More recently, I have come to think that remembering the dead is just as important as treating their bones with respect, and therefore I am opposed to a blanket diktat to rebury all ancient remains. I object to the loss of archaeological data, because I believe that it is important to remember and reconstruct the lives of our ancestors, from both a spiritual and a historical point of view.

Both my husband and I have been Pagan for a long time and interested in archaeology and history for a long time. I have always felt inspired by the Paganisms of the past, and am therefore interested in the lives of the people who held these beliefs in the past, partly because they are intrinsically interesting, and partly because we can learn from their experiences and traditions how to live sustainably, honourably and harmoniously. We cannot totally reproduce their way of life - we live in a new set of circumstances and with different challenges. But it is useful and interesting to look at the lives of people who lived fully immersed in a 'pagan' paradigm (I put that in quotes because they may or may not have had an idea of a distinct religious tradition separate from life in general, or in contrast to other religions.

It also seems to me that they built conspicuous monuments in the landscape because they wanted to be remembered (at least in the Bronze Age, when barrows for individuals were put up (even though secondary burials were added later).
Our days are ended. Think, then, of us.
Do not erase us from your memory, nor forget us.

Popol Vuh, sacred book of the Quiché Maya, quoted in de Baets (2004)
Also I think that most archaeologists (in the UK at least) are motivated by respect for and interest in the lives of the ancestors - cf the TV programme Meet the Ancestors with Julian Richards, which was clearly motivated by interest in and even compassion for the ancestors, and certainly evoked these emotions in the viewer.

I wish to research the views of a cross-section of Pagans, to establish what their views on this issue are, and what sort of discourses are being brought into play. I am aware that there are some more moderate advocates (of compromise options and selective reburial), so I want to talk to them.

For this initial project, I will be doing five anonymised face-to-face interviews with a cross-section of Pagans (maybe from one specific tradition, I don't know yet - depends who I can get).

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