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Subject:

Re: Pagans for Archaeology members' responses to Arthur's protest

From:

Jonathan Ferguson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 16:52:52 +0100

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A very interesting discussion. With regard to what modern pagans
believe, short of a representative survey or poll, we are limited to
anecdotal evidence - what we see in the media, people we know. My
experience is that pagans (wiccans mainly) that I have met are wholly
unaware that their version of their religion is not historical fact -
aside from the (20th century) wiccan source material they have the same
level of knowledge about their own past as most of the public, and the
same training in how to critically examine claims and evidence. Which is
to say, not very much. So I would say there are a majority who passively
believe that their religion really is ancient but would be open to the
evidence if presented with it, and a dogmatic minority who have been
described.

In any case, I have lost track of the number of times that I've heard
words to the effect of "another ritual/festival/thing stolen from us by
those Christians!" which strongly implies that they consider their
religion ancient and historical 'real' beyond Gerald Gardner et al.


-----Original Message-----
From: British archaeology discussion list
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Andy Norfolk
Sent: 21 July 2009 16:24
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [BRITARCH] Pagans for Archaeology members' responses to
Arthur's protest

Andy Holland

Thanks for a very careful and thoughtful reply. It's long been my 
impression that human remains are handled with care and respect by 
osteoarchaeologists and anthropologists. I've hunted out and read 
various codes of ethics relating to this issue.

I agree that some Pagan groups can be rather prickly about this whole 
subject and that this can be read as an anti-establishment attitude - to

some extent this could just perhaps be because some very sincere Pagans 
are not good at putting over their point of view in a clear way and may 
feel that they aren't being taken entirely seriously. I'm glad to be 
able to say that I know many Pagans who work quite hard at establishing 
and maintaining good working relationships with a variety of heritage 
professionals.

I didn't say that *I* thought human remains were shoved into boxes and 
I'm aware of  how carefully things are stored. However this is a 
convenient sound-bite that does come up in Pagan discussions of this
issue.

As you say some pre-Christian societies did handle human remains 
regularly at some periods of human history. This makes it a bit ironic 
that some groups seem to want to bury every bit of human remains. It 
seems that in some cases bits of people were kept on display in 
prehistoric times. They most certainly weren't always stuck in the 
ground and left there. This also makes me wonder about the suggestion 
that all ancient human remains should be removed from public view - 
though I confess to some entirely irrational disquiet about it in some  
case. Context is very important.

I also agree that there are very good reasons for not making fragile 
human remains, or indeed any other fragile archaeological material, 
accessible to the general public. It is, however you look at it, a 
scarce and valuable resource and should be treated with care for that 
reason.

There is of course no way of knowing exactly what the people whose 
remains we are discussing believed. However it can be argued that the 
way in which their remains is an expression of those beliefs and could 
be regarded as a pretty good guide to how and where they might have 
wished their remains to - er - remain.

I think you'd find most Pagans know very well that there is no direct 
link of any kind with whatever our ancestors may have believed or done 
and make no pretence that there is. There are of course exceptions and 
some are very vocal, but making a lot of noise doesn't equate to being 
genuinely representative of a large percentage of Pagans.

With regard to Druidry - I think you'll find that a great many 
modern-day Druids have eagerly read Ronald Hutton's books and are under 
no illusions whatever about just how old or authentic it all is. In fact

you would be most unlikely to find a contemporary Druid suggesting, as 
an archaeologist has recently done, that Lindow man was done in by the 
ancient druids on the basis of no real evidence, but hopefully it was 
just a tongue in cheek bit of fun. (But don't let's get started on bog 
bodies here!)

By the way can anyone tell me of any good hard archaeological evidence 
of ancient druidry? I know of none that is convincing. For something 
that has such a high public profile it's remarkably absent from the 
archaeological record.

On the same tack - how would we know that it was part of prehistoric 
druidic belief or practice to avoid fish? We don't, though from what you

say we can tell that people didn't eat fish in the Iron Age. We really 
don't know what level of influence druids may have had then - and the 
various classical writers are rather unreliable source of information.

We do not of course know what people in the Bronze Age may have called 
their priesthood, or even if they had one. We don't know when ancient 
druidry may have started. We do now know that there wasn't a Celtic 
invasion of people. This surely suggests that beliefs may have developed

and adapted over time without any major discontinuities - well except 
for the abandonment of various classes of monuments at various periods 
and changes in burial practices. Perhaps the term druid goes a fair way 
back? There are after all serious suggestions that the so called Celtic 
languages were here well before the iron Age.

Yes of course you are quite right that we don't know what sort of 
ceremonies might have been performed at an interment at any period in in

pre-history and it is certainly not in my opinion appropriate to stage 
any sort of elaborate ritual of any kind if and when such remains are 
re-interred. However a few brief words by someone who cares enough to 
utter them cannot cause any harm and surely would not be a major problem

to accommodate.

This is not an issue to which there is any single simple answer - not 
least because of the diversity of interest groups involved. More talking

can't hurt - a better understanding of all parties of the views of the 
others often helps to resolve difficult situations, but taking each 
other seriously is an important first step.

Andy N
Garden Detectives. Unearthing nature’s little secrets. 26 Jun – 27 Sep. Admission free: www.nms.ac.uk/garden

National Museums Scotland, Scottish Charity, No. SC 011130

This communication is intended for the addressee(s) only. If you are not the addressee please inform the sender and delete the email from your system. The statements and opinions expressed in this message are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of National Museums Scotland. This message is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. No liability is accepted for any harm that may be caused to your systems or data by this message.

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