16 April 2010 to Dame Fiona Reynolds:
"I was given your name by Ann Sullivan who suggested you may be the correct person to explain the NT's policy towards the reburial of relics and ancient human remains, especially that of the child's remains lying within the Avebury museum.
English Heritage recently posted their refusal to allow reburial and we have been consulting with many colleagues, both pagans, druids and environmentalists, christians and other faiths - all of whom are dismayed that the simple reason for wishing to see the reburial carried out, falling as it does into common decency and respect for the ancestral dead, was disregarded so insensitively. Many of us are scientists, professional and academics, as well as having a spiritual interest in this subject
Referring to the lack of proof of a connection to the remains at Avebury museum as a reason for refusal to allow a reburial in this country, seems to be a tenuous argument considering there is proof of the bones relationship with this country, as there has been similarly with Native American First People's ancestral bones and also Aboriginal Australians when they demanded their 'ancestors' return: none of those reburial issues demanded evidence of a present day descendent but if that was demanded, no doubt the science exists to provide such.
The consultation poll was a random selection I gather? Do you know how this was devised please and what methodology used?
Considering there would be an hypothetical bias in the general population towards burial of dead bodies, Im interested as to how the questions were put, considering different answers could be obtained if the options I gave above had been offered?
If you did not provide the options of modelling, keeping tiny samples for further research etc, then as a researcher you could not predict how many questioned would know of such options and because they could not see any other way of displaying the 'information' they would prefer to stick with the status quo i.e leave the bones in situ.
Questionnaires can become skewed or flawed when you direct or leave little option for a clear variable preference.
There are many and various reburial guidelines which may be utilised, especially available on the DCMS website - but I can view both those in favour of reburial
and others which seem to gravitate towards needing the whole set of bones for research rather than slivers of material, and actual bones displayed rather than the excellent modern techniques employed by forensic sculptors to produce a replica: most tourists would not know the difference.
Would you please elucidate upon the specific policy guidelines which were referred to by your organisation and EH and indicate why you chose to adhere to them? Please furnish us with the references, journals and papers which were utilised: I have read one working party paper on the DCMS site http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/wghr_reportfeb07.pdf .
I will then be able to pass this information on for discussion to others in S,G,W,I who will forward it on to other networking groups.
Please contact me if you require further details.
Scribe, Sacred Grove Western Isles
Many thanks for your e-mail to the National Trust's Director-General, which has been passed on to me for a response. As Head of Archaeology for the National Trust, I was closely involved with Dr Payne, English Heritage Chief Scientist, in developing the response to the original request.
The lack of close connection with the human remains in the Avebury Museum is only one of the reasons for our decision, as set out on our website (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.19819); in brief, these include:
(a) the study of human remains provides important evidence about our past;
(b) the benefit this provides far outweighs any harm;
(c) there is no evidential basis for a connection between this or other Druid or Pagan groups and these human remains of a sort that would justify giving them special rights;
(d) the public in general support the keeping of prehistoric human remains in museums for research and as parts of displays provided this is done appropriately; and
(e) retention is also the more reversible option.
In the Australian cases you refer to, there is generally clear evidence of a close and direct connection (as discussed in the DCMS guidance); for this reason the cases are different. We believe, and make clear in our response, that it is important to treat human remains with dignity and sensitivity; we do not, however, share your view that this necessitates reburial.
The report on our opinion poll has been available on out website
since the decision was announced. As you will see from it, the poll was carried out by an independent and well-regarded polling organisation, who used industry-standard sampling methods to ensure the representativeness of the sample. The text of the questions is given in full in the report; we took considerable care in drafting questions that were reasonably simple and at the same time not leading, taking advice on this from the polling company and from an independent consultant.
Displaying replicas and retaining small samples only for future research doesn’t offer an easy solution. On the research side, new methods are moving so quickly that it’s not possible to predict what samples will be needed in the future. Some methods do more and more with smaller and smaller samples; but the next advances may come, for instance, from the application of scanning technologies which need whole bones or whole skulls. On the display side, it’s fairly clear from the opinion poll and other evidence that most people expect to see and want to see human remains in museums where this is appropriate; and clear also that people want to see the real thing – replicas just aren’t the same.
The guidelines we use, and which are referenced in our reports, are primarily those produced by DCMS (http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/GuidanceHumanRemains11Oct.pdf), and by ourselves with the Church of England (http://www.cofe.anglican.org/about/cathandchurchbuild/humanremains/cathandchurchbuild/humanremainsguidance.pdf).
I hope that this information answers your concerns,
With best wishes,
Dr David Thackray FSA MIFA IHBC MLI
Head of Archaeology
The National Trust
Tel: 01793 817796
Fax: 01793 817401
Mobile: 07971 233282
Reburial of ancient child’s skeleton
HAD has been co ordinating opinions from many pagan and interested groups and organizations,
and has now sent an Formal Response to EH regarding their recent refusal to listen to the call for reburial.
See EH press release and HAD Formal Response on their website.
SGWI email correspondence with the National Trust and English Heritage
who ultimately announced the decision NOT to allow reburial,
of ancient female child remains from Avebury and held in the museum there
is set out below: