The bodies of the dead have powerful social, religious and emotional meanings. Archaeologists around the world are aware that this means they need to be careful when balancing their needs for research material with the sensitivities of others. Under English law excavated human remains should normally be reburied within two years. Sometimes, however, archaeologists do not always see reburial as the best option, and longer study periods can be agreed, or we can retain the option to return to reburied assemblages. While they are being studied it is considered good practice in archaeology to treat human remains ‘respectfully’ – a rather vague term but it would certainly include treating them in a serious and scholarly way, and not putting silly hats onto skulls or giving skeletons comic nicknames. In the case of church burials, the presumption is that the burials of the dead should not normally be disturbed. So the excavation at Greyfriars was quite unusual because burials were excavated even though there was no immediate threat of destruction. The project was granted a licence to excavate up to six burials in order to meet their research goals. In the event, they only removed a single burial; other burials uncovered were highly unlikely to be Richard III and so they were left undisturbed.
One of the surprising things about the huge attention paid to the announcement earlier this week that the remains of Richard III have been found in Leicester is that hardly anyone has expressed discomfort about us excavating, studying and showing photographs of human remains. As we have seen, scientific testing of the bones can tell us a great deal of interesting information. We can learn about the date of the bones, his probable diet, his sex and even his family relationships. Some of this testing is destructive. Archaeologists need to balance the gains in knowledge against the damage to the integrity of the bones; and to any offence to people’s religious, emotional and ethical beliefs.
A really interesting piece by Professor Sarah Tarlow from the University of Leicester. You can read the rest here!
A few days ago I received a notice from Youtube about one of our videos. Apparently someone had marked it “inappropriate” and following review by Youtube staff the video was age-restricted.
The video in question is part of a series called “Favourite Things“, in which museum staffers select one of their favourite museum objects and describes it and why it is so special. In this particular video, Collections Manager Ion Meyer, is showing and describing three preparations of a so-called ischiopagus. That is, twins conjoined at the pelvis.
Since the video was published in March 2011 it has had almost 220,000 views. In comparison, the second-most watched video in our Youtube-channel has had less than 10,000 views. The ischiopagus video has also triggered more comments than is usual for our videos. We have tried to respond to all serious comments, but we also chosen not to respond to some, e.g.
Why would any parent let someone do this to their children! They need a proper burial! Bless there souls! <3
If you look at the Youtube guidelines, reasons for placing an age-restriction on a video include
Sexually suggestive content
Partial nudity or non-sexual nudity
Actual violence or very graphic fictional violence
Gory, disturbing imagery in an appropriate context
However, they also highlight notable exceptions for some educational, artistic, documentary and scientific content (e.g. health education, documenting human rights issues, etc.), but only if this is the sole purpose of the video and it is not gratuitously graphic…
Without proper context and explanations I can see how someone could feel the imagery in video could is disturbing. However, it should be clear that the purpose of this video is exactly as described in the exception.
Is the video inappropriate for young audiences? I don’t think so. However, Youtube provides no means of appealing an age-restriction imposed on a video, so it doesn’t really matter what we think. I wonder if other museums have had similar experiences with videos on Youtube?
This January, a 21-year-old Canadian tourist named Elisa Lam disappeared while visiting Los Angeles. Lam was last seen at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where she had been staying. Tuesday, her body was found at the bottom of one of the hotel’s rooftop water tanks, thus solving two separate mysteries at once: “What happened to Elisa Lam?” and “Why is the water pressure so bad at the Cecil Hotel?”
The hotel’s guests were horrified at the news, with good reason—nothing spoils a vacation faster than learning you may have been brushing your teeth with corpse-water. But anyone familiar with Los Angeles’s history couldn’t have been too surprised. Downtown LA has long been seedy, and somewhat dangerous; the Cecil Hotel, for its part, has a long and sordid criminal history.
The Cecil doesn’t advertise its dark past; caveat emptor and all that. But, still, many guests might balk at staying in a hotel that was once a crime scene. It’s best if you do your research before embarking on your travels, not after. Here are some ways to determine whether or not you might have booked a room in a murder hotel.
Finding Richard III (on the premises of Leicester social services no less) is testament to the ingenuity of archaeologists. Weaving together findings from historical analysis of texts with scientific analysis of the skeleton and the site, they have made an overwhelming case that these are the remains of the king.
As a historian, I spend a lot of time trying to listen to the dead. Every now and then a curtain seems to be pulled aside and we hear them directly, and the feeling is very powerful. The way that the wounds to the skull match with one of the historical accounts of Richard’s death did that for me: I was taken to Richard’s final moments, as his helmet was lost and his attackers closed in, his horse gone or stuck in the mud, the moments in other words when he knew he had lost his kingdom and his life. That human connection is precious, and rare.
The findings go some way to resolving the question of how the story of Richard’s crooked back was exaggerated for political purposes. For me, though, the real academic significance of the find is its demonstration of the power of archaeological techniques.
Combining insights from natural and social sciences, archaeology offers an exceptionally powerful way of understanding many of the most inscrutable aspects of our past – think of the difficulty of interpreting Stonehenge, for example, and what has now been achieved by this kind of sophisticated analysis. Archaeologists have plenty to tell us about the impact of climate change and fuel use, or the rise and decline of complex societies: they give us access, in other words, to a vast store of human experience, which is of direct relevance to some of the greatest challenges we now face.
Despite the value and interest of what they do, archaeology departments up and down the country are now facing difficulty. The reason? Undergraduate demand has fallen, and there is no other way for them to pay their bills.
Services such as LivesOn and DeadSocial plan to keep your friends and family updated on your Twitter and Facebook pages, even after you have passed away.
Forget Ouija boards. If you want to communicate with the dead these days, all you need is Twitter. Much like last week’s episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, in which a grieving woman uses a digital service to communicate with her deceased boyfriend, social media is already bridging the gap between the living and the dead.
Launching in March is a new Twitter app called LivesOn. The service uses Twitter bots powered by algorithms that analyse your online behaviour and learn how you speak, so it can keep on scouring the internet, favouriting tweets and posting the sort of links you like, creating a personal digital afterlife. As its tagline explains: “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.”
“It divides people on a gut level, before you even get to the philosophical and ethical arguments,” says Dave Bedwood, creative partner of Lean Mean Fighting Machine, the London-based ad agency that is developing it.
“It offends some, and delights others. Imagine if people started to see it as a legitimate but small way to live on. Cryogenics costs a fortune; this is free and I’d bet it will work better than a frozen head.”
Mia Smith, a business owner in her mid-40s, has already registered her interest. For her, it is the chance to have a “kind of ironic legacy” that drew her in. “But I’m not sure who’d be interested in reading a computer-generated ‘me’,” she says. “In the cold light of day, it is a very conceited thing to do.”
Two drowned Union sailors are finally going to be laid to rest 150 years after they went down with the USS Monitor in a storm off the coast of North Carolina.
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Tuesday (Feb.12) that the remains will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. There will be a ceremony on March 8 to honor the two unknown men.
“These may very well be the last Navy personnel from the Civil War to be buried at Arlington,” Mabus said in a statement. “It’s important we honor these brave men and all they represent as we reflect upon the significant role Monitor and her crew had in setting the course for our modern Navy.”
The violin believed to have belonged to the heroic band master who played as the Titanic sunk is set to sold at auction for a record price.
If proved authentic, the violin of Wallace Hartley will have incredibly survived the tragedy in which more than 1500 people lost their lives in the Atlantic on April 15, 1912.
The final extensive scientific tests are underway to prove its authenticity but experts believe it to be genuine.
It is expected to fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds on April 20 when it is auctioned by Titanic experts Henry Aldridge and Son based in Devizes, Wiltshire.
It has passed all other tests over the last seven years and the results of the last investigation are due early next month.
A plan of the Titanic used in the inquiry into the doomed ship sold for a record £220,000 in 2011 but it is believed the instrument will exceed this price.
The anonymous seller of the violin claims that Maria Robinson, Hartley’s bereaved fiancé, retrieved the violin after his death. The instrument had been a gift from her.
The fate of Hartley’s violin has always been a mystery to Titanic scholars.
All eight members of the band that gallantly played as passengers lined up for evacuation to the lifeboats perished in the disaster but the bodies of the band leader and two other musicians were pulled from the water by a search crew from the CS Mackay-Bennett and taken to Nova Scotia, Canada.
Violinist John Law Hume from Dumfries in Scotland and bass player John Frederick Preston Clarke from Liverpool were laid to rest in Halifax but Hartley’s body was repatriated to England and buried at Colne, Lancashire, the town where he was born and raised.
Stone Age farmers lived through routine violence, and women weren’t spared from its toll, a new study finds.
The analysis discovered that up to 1 in 6 skulls exhumed in Scandinavia from the late Stone Age — between about 6,000 and 3,700 years ago — had nasty head injuries. And contrary to findings from mass gravesites of the period, women were equally likely to be victims of deadly blows, according to the study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
In recent years, DNA analysis has shed light on the parents of Egypt’s most famous pharaoh, the boy king Tutankhamun, known to the world as King Tut. Genetic investigation identified his father as Akhenaten and his mother as Akhenaten’s sister, whose name was unknown.
French Egyptologist Marc Gabolde offered a different interpretation of the DNA evidence. Speaking at Harvard’s Science Center, Gabolde said he’s convinced that Tut’s mother was not his father’s sister, but rather his father’s first cousin, Nefertiti.
Nefertiti was already known to be Akhenaten’s wife and in fact the two had six daughters. Gabolde believes they also had a son, Tutankhamun, and that the apparent genetic closeness revealed in the DNA tests was not a result of a single brother-to-sister mating, but rather due to three successive generations of marriage between first cousins…
The successful search for the bones of Richard III has prompted calls for a fresh effort to locate the remains of another major historical figure buried in Leicester.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey is known to have been buried at the city’s abbey in 1530, but his remains have not been found.
The churchman, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, died at the abbey while travelling to London after being accused of treason when he failed to secure the annulment of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
The remains of the abbey can be seen in Abbey Park.
City councillor Ross Willmott said: “The discovery of Richard III is wonderful news, yet there remains something of a mystery about what happened to Wolsey, who rivaled Henry VIII in wealth and power and was one of the most significant political figures of the era.
“Arguably, he is far more influential than Richard III. To discover his remains would help tell the story of another historic figure linked to the city.”
“There have been digs over the years to try to find him but they have not succeeded. I would like another go.
“It would bring more tourists to the city and further excite the interest in history and archeology that we are now seeing.”
Wolsey’s father had died at Bosworth, though his allegiance in the battle is unclear.
Wolsey served as royal chaplain to Henry VII, who seized the thone from Richard.
It is likely he was buried with great ceremony at the abbey but historians think his tomb was destroyed later in Henry VIII’s reign, when abbeys were dissolved after England’s split with the Catholic Church.
An attempt to locate Wolsey’s remains in 1820 failed and nothing was discovered when archeologists dug in the abbey remains in the early 1930s.
However, Leicester Civic Society chairman Stuart Bailey said: “His bones may have been scattered and any remnants destroyed, but for years they said that about Richard III.
“I think it would be marvellous to have another look.
“It was a great fluke that Richard was found but we know Wolsey was buried in the Lady Chapel of the abbey church, which is not all that big.”
Mr Bailey said he had already suggested a search for Wolsey to Richard Buckley, the archeologist who led the University of Leicester’s Richard III.
Mr Buckley was not available for comment yesterday.