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Avebury & the Marlborough Downs



Honouring the Ancient Dead - Avebury Consultation

Following the request made by certain members of the Council of British Druid Orders in June 2006 for the reburial of ancient ancestral remains excavated from the Avebury Complex in Wiltshire, in 2008 English Heritage and the National Trust launched a consultation exercise to take public input.

This will be a landmark case that could set precedents for other cases.

While individuals were welcome to send their own responses, HAD gathered comment from its own councils of advisors and theologians in order to submit a response as an organisation. We have now published HAD's Response to the Avebury Consultation. There is also available a Press Release on the response which summarises the case and HAD's position.

The Museums Association response provoked HAD to respond once more.

HAD's letter to the MA can be found on the main HAD website at along with all the other documents mentioned above.
Chance Posted by Chance
7th February 2010ce

Comments (11)

What are "ancestral remains" in this context? Posted by Mustard
8th February 2010ce
I believe in this context "ancestral remains" relates to the prehistoric human remains of child excavated near Avebury (Windmill Hill) and kept on display in the Alexander Keiller Museum.
tjj Posted by tjj
8th February 2010ce
OK, more specifically, how does that qualify as the ancestor of some random neo-druid? Posted by Mustard
8th February 2010ce
Hopefully Chance will come back and answer that question, because I would like to know too.

I would go along with the remains being taken off public display though as the fragile bones of that small ancient child do look rather exposed in their glass case.
tjj Posted by tjj
8th February 2010ce
"Ancestral remains" means the remains of our ancient ancestors.

tjj believes this refers to a child excavated on Windmill Hill, when in fact it refers to any burials made when any ancient site was first constructed.

Many of these ancient sites were constructed before druids.

Please see the supplied documents on the HAD website
Chance Posted by Chance
9th February 2010ce
So, you are using the term 'ancient ancestors' in the general sense of showing respect to ancient bones dug up to further knowledge gained by Archaeology - rather than that druids are personally linked to them. Am I correct in saying that when William Cunnington excavated the Bush Barrow near Stonehenge the remains of the individual were reburied and are there to this day.

I personally have always felt uncomfortable staring at excavated skeletons in museums - there is also one in the Salisbury Museum. I don't really 'believe' anything Chance as I am without religion other than awe of the universe, I understood however, that the debate in question was focused on the remains displayed in the Alexander Keiller museum.
tjj Posted by tjj
9th February 2010ce

I believe William Cunnington re-buried all the remains he and his workmen excavated.

As stated above, please see the supplied information on the HAD website

The Aims of HAD

Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD) is an organisation with its principal focus on the physical remains of ancient and historical pagan culture within the British Isles. Its aims are to ensure that appropriate care is given by those involved in the unearthing, studying, storing and display of such remains. HAD works on the basis that, within modern British Pagan traditions, such remains are considered worthy of profound respect, and in many Pagan religions are felt to be sacred.

HAD’s concern primarily is for all human remains understood as originating from pagan culture within the British Isles, together with artefacts associated with the deposition of those human remains and their religious practice.

The time period of HAD’s focus is prehistoric to 600 CE, and all humain remains from after that date not found within a clearly non-pagan religious context, up to 100 years ago.

HAD also aims to act as a conduit for Pagan archaeological issues generally, where necessary extending its network to seek advice from sources and experts within relevant areas. In this regard, HAD will liaise between Pagan and government bodies where necessary.

HAD’s remit refers to such artefacts and human remains where held in museums and other collections, including items that are kept in storage, currently being studied, and those presented on public display.

HAD’s interest lies equally in archaeological work currently being undertaken and work that will be carried out in the future, with reference to human remains and relevant artefacts discovered, and in particular where any such finds are disinterred.

While HAD will not get involved in specific campaigns for restitution of non-British human remains to other countries, it does include within its remit broad support for appropriate care for all pagan human remains and sacred objects in UK collections, whatever their origin.

HAD seeks to explore and enable ways in which the Pagan community can interact with objects held in UK museums, creating opportunities for this to take place.

Chance Posted by Chance
9th February 2010ce
But the "pagan community" today has very little in common with the "pagan community" of old. Indeed, both the terms "pagan" and "pagan community" are extremely loose and poorly-defined. I don't see how any modern-day pagan has any serious claim to an affinity with people who lived here thousands of years ago, about whose beliefs we know next to nothing. Posted by Mustard
10th February 2010ce
This has turned into an interesting exchange, as sometimes happens with 'comments'. The authenticity of present day pagans compared with what existed in 'prehistory' will always a subject of speculation. If the HAD organisation acts as a watchdog to how Archaeology (as a science) behaves towards the excavated remains of the ancient dead then it has to be something I support. It is not a popular view but to me a seems as though some archaeologists see themselves as beyond censure - no one here would condone 'grave robbing' so at what point in history does one become the other.
tjj Posted by tjj
10th February 2010ce
I'm happy with the notion of a watchdog, but not a self-appointed one with its own religious agenda. Also, I can't see removing 3000 year old remains that have no connection with any modern person, culture or religion as "grave robbing".

Bone are bones. Inanimate objects. If you believe otherwise, and you believe that bones have significance, then I'm quite happy to accept that the bones of your relatives and direct ancestors should be accorded respect in line with such beliefs. But I'm not happy to accept that anyone has the right to claim a say over bones of a different culture/ethnic group/religion from 3000 years ago, simply on the basis that they feel some affinity with that culture.
Posted by Mustard
10th February 2010ce
Perhaps I was a little harsh about archaeologists - present day archeos seem far more inclusive and keen to make the subject as accessible as possible. I'm thinking in particular of Ros Cleal from the Alexander Keiller Museum who I had the pleasure to meet when she led a walk around Avebury last summer.

Having read the extract from the Aims of HAD above, their objectives seem reasonable enough - who, after all is said and done, has the sole right to say what should happen to the bones/skulls etc which are displayed in museums. With ever increasing advances in carbon dating surely in the future it is only necessary to retain a small portion of bone and leave the burial site as undisturbed as possible. I am glad to say to the best of my knowledge there are no plans to disturb East Kennett Long Barrow in the foreseeable future.

tjj Posted by tjj
11th February 2010ce
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