SPP Archaeology session 1

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Archaeology - Ethics of Archaeology - 1st February 7:30

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Date: Friday 1st February
Time: 7:30 to approx. 8:15
Venue: Ruins
Max: 10

Organiser: Marsbar9 Schomer

In this session we will look at the Ethics of Archaeology: digging up bodies which have been buried 5, 10, 20, 50 years ago is pretty much unacceptable in the UK (although normal for a variety of reasons in some other countries), whereas digging up 3000-year-old bodies is fine (although there are still legal restrictions).

Where is the dividing line, and why is there a dividing line? Come along to discuss...

Some links relating to discussion within this session

1 Marsbar9 Schomer
2 Rowan
3 Vibia- try and stop me! ]:-)
4 Please edit to add your name
5 Please edit to add your name
6 Please edit to add your name
7 Please edit to add your name

Notes from the event

You: The ethics of Archaeology
Vibia Schomer: ah, yes
You: What do you reckon then? Where is the "dividing line" between good and bad?
Vibia Schomer: well it sepends on the context of it..... (need to be careful as context in archaeology can meane layers!)
Rowan SParker arrives
You: We were just saying, where is the dividing line between good and bad in archaeology? What is acceptable?
You: I think I agree with Vibia in that it depends on the context of the site
Rowan SParker: in what way, Mars?
Vibia Schomer: well just normal digging is fine- i mean the remains are destroyed really but good records are kept of it all for reference
You: Well.... I think the time frame has a large impact
You: So if it is recent, we will probably know a lot about it, and there is no need to go digging it up (yet)
Vibia Schomer: although bodies are a different matter
Rowan SParker: 'normal digging' perhaps doesn't have to mean destruction of human remains?
Vibia Schomer: normal digging as in pots, houses, etc
You: Graves is a different matter I guess
Vibia Schomer: it is
You: However, if you come across them, I guess you can't help ubt research it then?
Rowan SParker: but I don't mean to contradict but human remains aren't always predictable where they turn up
Vibia Schomer: there are strict regulations as to what you can and can't do
Rowan SParker: for example slaves may be buried by the side of roads
Vibia Schomer: and they cannot be moved unless they are in danger I think
Rowan SParker: in human history, and prehistory, I think maybe only a minority of people have been 'buried' in neatly demarcated graveyards
You: So where the bodies are depends on what can be done then?
Vibia Schomer: yes- well quite a few people were buried in certain area, but some were just 'randomly' buried
You: And I agree Rowan, there are lots of bodies out there in unmarked graves
You: What about land owners - if they find a body on their land, what should they do?
Vibia Schomer: Unsure on that one... I tihnk archaeologists have to be called in for further investigation
Rowan SParker: I was more trying to get to the notions of 'context of site' and what is 'normal digging' - to examine 2 very interesting points you each brought in
You: And if they have the wrong view - might some of them claim the finds as theirs?
Vibia Schomer: well with site context- I was on about context layers! :) and normal digging I regard as normal excavation, not including the remains of bodies
Rowan SParker: actually I know I keep speaking out of sync - but if a landowner finds human remains then first step is to call the police and it is up to them to decide whether to turn it over to archaaeologiests...
You: I guess some remains could be "suspicious"
Vibia Schomer: Ah- yes I missed out the police! :)
Rowan SParker: yes if a body is found in a peat bog it is impossible for the layperson at first glance to tell if it is very recent or very old
Rowan SParker: I forget the name is it 'Utzi' the one in the Alps?
Rowan SParker: he is the oldest well preserved peat bog body but so well preserved that the police still were the first port of call
Vibia Schomer: it is really hard for non specilaists to date bodies- did you see Time Team the other week on the island in scotland??
Rowan SParker: yes Vibia excellent
Vibia Schomer: Oetzi was found in mountains I thought
Rowan SParker: Yes yes but in a peat bog in the mountains
You: Did they date Otzi?
Vibia Schomer: In Time Team they found an amazingly well preserved body on there- if you saw it you would think it was more medieval or newer rather then preiron age
Vibia Schomer: Otzi- hang on ill just check in my book
Rowan SParker: yes last term I did an archaeology evening class
Rowan SParker: most of it wasn't very interesting but the best session was about the preservation of human remains
Rowan SParker: what is really key is not age but what kind of material they are put in and what happens more or less immediately that might aid preservation - or not
Vibia Schomer: 4000 years old
You: wow
Rowan SParker: wow wow
Vibia Schomer: ah- no here we go-
Vibia Schomer: got better dates now
You: and what did they do with he/she afterwards?
Rowan SParker: sorry to ask Vibia but does your book give a comparison with 'Pete Marsh' the one they found in Cheshire
Vibia Schomer: 5350-5100 years ago
Rowan SParker: oh I know that Mars! gosh better and better Vibia
You: wow - even older!
Rowan SParker: Utzi was quarrelled over a lot - which side of the border was he on
Vibia Schomer: nope- its just a general archaeology of the world book
Rowan SParker: I think in the end Italy won and he is in a museum there I saw some pix
Vibia Schomer: Otzi was eventailly discovered to be 91m inside of + Italy
You: Oh wow...
Vibia Schomer: but it was thought he was originally in Austria but moved due to glacial movement
Rowan SParker: I think the hiker who found him thought he could be a recent death
Rowan SParker: wow Vibia
Vibia Schomer: so there was a masive argument
Rowan SParker: well I did go to a class on it quite recently!
Mars was AFK for a few minutes
Vibia Schomer: I've watched loads of programmes on Otzi!
Rowan SParker: your book sounds good Vibia
Vibia Schomer: its is....
Vibia Schomer: its really good
Rowan SParker: I put up the title on the wiki page for the session last night
Rowan SParker: but I think I might have to get it
Vibia Schomer: its also got about archaeologists too
Vibia Schomer: founders of archaeology and significant archaeologists
Vibia Schomer: and the major places in the world
Rowan SParker: yes some of our classes were about that
Rowan SParker: but the teacher wasn't very interesting much of the time - very slow and ponderous
Vibia Schomer: eg. Lascaux, Mount Li, Pompeii, Technotitlan, etc
Vibia Schomer: aww.... that wont help
Rowan SParker: Yes he said that somewhere near Pompei is even better to see than Pompeii
Vibia Schomer: Herculaneum
Rowan SParker: the name is on the tip of my tongue but the TV is blaring in the background here
Rowan SParker: YES thank you
Vibia Schomer: :p
Rowan SParker: he says that is the place to go to
Vibia Schomer: I know quite a bit about them! :p
Vibia Schomer: I love the Romans you see! :)
Rowan SParker: yes I do agree
Vibia Schomer: What they did was amazing
Rowan SParker: have you been to Hadrians Wall
Vibia Schomer: no- I'm going there later this year though! :)
Rowan SParker: oh great.
Vibia Schomer: Going to go to Vindolanda too!
Rowan SParker: I only went quite recently and thought it superb
Vibia Schomer: I'm rather looking forward to going really
Rowan SParker: great.
Vibia Schomer: should be really interesting
Rowan SParker: I don't think I know a lot now I come to think about it about the Romans and death
Vibia Schomer: I've gt a book with some info in it! :p
Rowan SParker: Maybe it was cremation in urns?
Vibia Schomer: ill just get it
Rowan SParker: not much left
Rowan SParker: ok I will wait
Vibia Schomer: got it
Vibia Schomer: -one of a few! :p
Vibia Schomer: its my ancient rome book
Rowan SParker: terrific
Vibia Schomer: ill just find the info on it
Rowan SParker: sure
Mars returns
You: Sorry about that
You: Where are we up to?
Rowan SParker: it's OK can you see the hsitory
Vibia Schomer: romans and death
You: ye :-)
You: ooh
Vibia Schomer: Cremation was very popular
You: What did they do with the ashes?
Vibia Schomer: and the ahes were mixed with water or wine in the urns
Rowan SParker: OK
You: They didn't drink it did they?
Rowan SParker: as we don't have much time ....
Vibia Schomer: they had marble and glass urns too
Vibia Schomer: dont think so
Vibia Schomer: :p
Rowan SParker: but thanks Vibia as I did want to know that....
Rowan SParker: let's spend 5 mins on ethics
Vibia Schomer: They had processiosn through the towns with the dead
Vibia Schomer: oh and funeral games
Vibia Schomer: ie. gladiators
Rowan SParker: that is still a tradition in some Mediterranean countries - the processions
Rowan SParker: I think we could go back to Mars' earlier question...
Vibia Schomer: yes... indeed
You: Well, back to ethics and the finding of human remains, I think that you shouldn't go intentionally out looking for them
Rowan SParker: about how can we decide if/when it is ethical to excavate
Vibia Schomer: of course not mars
Rowan SParker: I don't agree!
Vibia Schomer: well there are strict guidelines so i do agree with it
Rowan SParker: why shouldn't an archaeologiest decide to look for a very old burial site they suspect might exist somewhere?
Vibia Schomer: and the remains are only moved if absolutly neccessary
Rowan SParker: ummmm
You: Although, twisting my last comment, I do agree with Rowan as well lol -
Rowan SParker: most modern archaeology is 'rescue archaeology'
You: and if we have a serious lack in a specific area of our ancestry, we should try to learn as much about it
Rowan SParker: which means a new estate or skyscraper or something is going to be built
Vibia Schomer: I agree with Rowan on being able to look for burial grounds
You: We have the ability to, so why not?
Rowan SParker: and the archaeologists have a last chance to see what they can find there
You: How long a time period do they have?
Rowan SParker: But I do agree Vibia ont he need to behave according to rules and treat human remains with respect
Vibia Schomer: I tihnk as we have the opportnity we should learn as much as we can about our ancestry
Rowan SParker: typically something like 6 months - 1 year
You: Cos if there's something in the area, I think you should be able to look around as much as possible
Vibia Schomer: All remains are treated with the upmost respect
You: Archaeologists that it
Rowan SParker: yes

At this point, we decided we all had to go, and agreed to meet again next friday.

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