The reburial debate

Two recent news articles have brought have highlighted the way in which archaeologists and museums treat human remains. Nine tattooed Maori heads have been Council of British Druid Orders have demanded that human remains on display in the archaeological museum at Avebury should be reburied.

This illustrates the complicated nature of the burial debate. Few would object to the repatriation of Maori remains. The demand for their return came from a body that can make some claim to represent the modern Maori community, and the modern Maori community themselves can make a clear case for being the direct ancestors of those people whose remains were taken. However, with the case of the Avebury remains, it is more debatable how far the Druids involved can make a clear case to represent the descent community of the prehistoric inhabitants. Even within the pagan community there are others who do not demand their reburial. The archaeologists who study Avebury are just as likely to be descended from the original occupants of the region as the Druids: how do we judge between competing claims to represent these dead communities? Indeed, is it possible for modern groups to truly represent the beliefs of the long dead?

From my point of view, those who demand the reburial of these early remains are as guilty of ‘colonising’ these past populations as the archaeologists. It is possible to argue that the belief that remains once buried should be kept buried is a relatively recent cultural construct. Despite medieval beliefs in bodily resurrection, in practice most medieval graveyards were continually reworked leaving huge piles of redeposited charnel. Should we aim to respect what past societies believed, or simply what they did in practice? It is noticeable that in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age society, there is good archaeological evidence (particularly from the Avebury region) that simple inhumation was not the dominant burial rite. Instead bodies were excarnated, disarticulated and circulated across the landscape. Arguably, by excavating and displaying the skeletal remains from Avebury we are closer to respecting the wishes of the dead community than those who would demand that they are reburied. What do you think?

Valuing Heritage

A number of bodies including Heritage Link, English Heritage, The National Trust, Historic Houses Association and the Heritage Lottery Fund have just published a report Valuing Our Heritage. This is a document which aims to assess the economic and social importance of the heritage sector to the Britain. Much of the content is based on last summer’s History Matters campaign which many of you may have seen.

English Heritage has suffered a significant lack of funding over the last years, whereas funding for museum galleries and libraries has increased 36%, the Arts Council by 53% and Sport England by 98%. Despite the fact that EH has many statutory responsibilities, there has been no real attempt by central government to support it, with its funding not keeping up with inflation. It will be interesting to see whether the forthcoming White Paper on heritage protection, which is now promised to appear before Easter, will impact on the roles and responsibilities of both local and central archaeological curatorial bodies.

On another related funding issue are the potential threats to archaeology of the London Olympics 2012. First, there is basic threat to the archaeology and heritage caused by the major redevelopment of large parts of the East End. Ideally, this should all be mediated through the application of PPG16, the key element of planning guidance that deals with archaeology (though a search of the Olympics 2012 website for references to archaeology brings up no results). I have heard suggestions that the large-scale archaeological work required may cause a skills shortage in other parts of the country as many field archaeologists, particularly excavators, take advantage of the many jobs potentially available. However, it remains to see whether this will actually happen.

The bigger threat posed to archaeology by the Olympics is the wider pressure on public and lottery funding. However, it is clear that already the projected spending on the project is increasing rapidly, and it is likely that there will be aCaer Alyn project, or the Community Archaeology project in York. Whilst David Lammy, the Culture Minister, referring to the undoubted success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme may think that metal detectorists are the “unsung heroes of heritage”, the real heroes are those who spend time working on such community archaeology projects.

Introduction to the blog

Welcome to my new blog Outlandish Knight.

The main aim of the blog is to keep students in the Dept. of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester up-to-date with current developments in the world of archaeology and heritage management, though others are more than welcome to read the blog and post to it.

Although mainly focussing on heritage/archaeology issues, I will also occasionally post on other topics of interest to which might be of interest to others, namely wider conservation issues, politcs and even the odd excursus into music.

Why Outlandish Knight? The phrase is from an old folk song “An outlandish knight from the North Country came…”. It’s quite atmospheric and the the phrase stuck in my head, particularly as I’ve moved to Chester from a job in Durham and I still live in York – which just about qualifies as the North Country.

What is the picture? It’s an Outlandish Knight, or to be more precise it’s a photograph of a memorial brass from my favourite war memorial (hasn’t everyone got a favourite war memorial?), the Sykes Memorial in Sledmere, East Yorkshire. I ran the picture through Photoshop to tart it up a bit. It is close to the Waggoner’s Memorial, a monument to those from East Yorkshire who were members of the Waggoner’s Corps in WWI (hich is my second favourite war memorial).

Threat to forest in Finland

Reposted from Taiga Rescue Network:

“Ancient wilderness forests are being destroyed in Finland – please help to save these treasures of the Northern Taiga!The Finnish government is destroying the largest unprotected ancient forests in Finland. In Finnish Lapland the state owned logging company Metsähallitus started huge loggings in old-growth forests in November despite strong national support for their protection and despite several international biodiversity declarations signed by Finland . These unique ancient forests with up to 500 year old pine trees are being logged mainly for pulp and paper. The mills that use the ancient forests are Stora Enso pulp mill in Kemijärvi, Stora Enso paper mill in Veitsiluoto and Botnia pulp mill in Kemi.Logging and road construction has already started or is being planned in at least six areas.These loggings would permanently destroy unique natural values. The possibilities for reindeer herding and nature tourism on these areas would also be severely damaged. As the forests are situated at relatively high altitude in northern taiga the regeneration of the forests is also at doubt. All of these loggings are not even economically sustainable.Only 4,4 percent of Finnish forests are classified as old-growth forests. Still only about half of them are protected.

PLEASE TELL YOUR OPINION and ask for immediate stop to these outrageous loggings. Contact adresses and model letter below.More information about these forests and loggings with photo galleries can be found at:

Photos and info on Finnish forests are available at and

THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY:-Feedback page in the net: Korkeaoja, Minister: office +358 9-160 53300, Reunala, Chief of forestry: mobile +358 40 043 7222, office +358 9 160 53350, Peltonen, Forest department: office +358 9 160 52410, mikko.peltonen@mmm.fiSTORA ENSO OYJ:-Feedback page in the net:,,1_EN-1002-3142-7591_15804,00.html-Matti Karjula, Forest chief: mobile +358 2046 23009, Kallio-Mannila, Environmental chief: mobile +358 2046 24967,

GOVERNMENT:-Prime minister Matti Vanhanen: +358 9 1602 2001 (office), of the Environment Stefan Wallin +358 9 1603 9301 (office),

GOVERNMENTAL FOREST SERVICE METSÄHALLITUS:-Feedback page in the net: Jokinen, Director of forestry: mobile +358 400 290 491, office +358 205 64 4425, Kangas, Director general mobile +358 40 8430420, jyrki.kangas@metsa.fiYou can also contact the Finnish embassies in your countries.

Dear _____ _______,
Finnish state and the State-owned logging company Metsähallitus are destroying the largest unprotected virgin forest areas in Finland. In Savukoski and Kittilä six large wilderness forest areas are being logged or planned to be logged. Areas include Painopää, Jooseppitunturi, Isoselkä and Turjalaiset-Ahmatunturi in Savukoski and Raakevuoma and Pokka-Pulju in Kittilä.These forest areas are absurdly dropped out of all protection programs despite of their unquestionable natural values.I demand that the loggings in these areas are stopped immediately and proper protection planning process will be started.These loggings violate heavily the international commitments Finland has made: Countdown 2010- initiative of the EU and Convention of Biological Diversity CBD. Undersigning these agreements Finland is committed to halt the loss of biodiversity by the year 2010 and to protect all the large intact natural areas. Logging is also destroying important local livelihoods including reindeer herding and nature tourism.1. Do you think it is right to destroy the large intact forest areas of Savukoski and Kittilä? Do you think that Metsähallitus and Finland are following their international and national commitments for nature and biodiversity protection?2. What are you going to do to stop these outrageous loggings and make sure that a proper protection process is started?


New discoveries at Stonehenge

Information about major new discoveries at Stonehenge have just been released. The largest late Neolithic settlement site in mainland Britain has been discovered at Durrington Walls. It is clearly an important site, though as usual it will be interesting to see what has actually been found, rather than simply relying on often feverish speculation by the media. Interim reports of previous season’s works can be downloaded here:

Details of the latest announcement can be found on the BBC News website:

You can also find further information from the website of the National Geographic, who have partly funded the excavations.