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Thread: archeology

  1. #1
    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    Lightbulb archeology

    does it over step the mark?

    I mean digging up human bones is one step too far for me.
    the question is
    should there be a line drawn human should not cross just because it is science or history it does not mean it is allowed.

    what say you?
    Last edited by cacian; 07-10-2018 at 07:44 PM.
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  2. #2
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Human and hominid bones are full of scientific and historical information and are critically important artifacts in documenting the lives of prehistoric people, especially given the incompleteness of the archaeological record and the difficulties in recovering a people's story in the absence of written text. Human remains are also important in understanding historical cultures (that is, cultures that do have writing) where they can act as a check against the claims of historical records.

    So yes, there is a need for their recovery. For some (like you, Cacian) this goes too far, but for others (like me) it is scarcely an ethical consideration at all. The bones in question are not sentient and their former owners have either ceased to exist or are demonstrably not using them anymore. While I respect the right of anyone (especially a friend like you) to her own opinion, my view--which is that to prohibit the recovery of human remains is to allow emotion or even superstition to interfere with the pursuit of scientific knowledge--deserves equal consideration. And since others have strong objections to recovering or not recovering human remains, the resolution needs to be something other than what any given person or group might find offensive. That would be a difficult job (at least difficult to be fair with), but it is not beyond us.

    So say I.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-10-2018 at 08:30 PM.
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  3. #3
    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    I hear you Pompey.
    So how about the rituals archaeology goes on about.
    Are we in any way disturbing or disrespecting that idea?
    Let's take Egypt as a prime example.
    Archaeology has dug up mummified bodies to display in museums.
    There is a complete disregards for others beliefs or rituals. Who are we to come and disturb that?
    It is one thing to dig up artefacts and another to completely disregard past generations beliefs is it not?
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  4. #4
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    We do no harm or to those vanished generations, Cacian. In fact, I worked on two archaeological excavations when I was a young man, and everyone involved in them had a profound respect for the ancients we studied. And where a poor country like Egypt is concerned, recovering a tomb or temple brings badly needed money into the economy through tourism. The only real argument against archaeology, as far as I am concerned, is that it exposes the materials excavated to a greater risk of destruction than leaving them in the ground does. That's just a paradox one had to live with, though, since not excavating them is similar to not having them at all. In my view it is better to add to our knowledge and strive to conserve what we recover.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-10-2018 at 08:13 PM.
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  5. #5
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Archaeology (as I'm sure Pompey is aware) involves digging up artifacts; digging up bones is "physical anthropology". There has been some controversy here in the Pacific Northwest about "Kenniwick Man", a 10,000 year old skeleton that appeared to more closely resemble Europeans than Native Americans. The Native groups objected to anthropologists meddling with sacred burials, but their real objection was to the notion that early inhabitants of North America may have been some "other".

    It seems to me that we should proceed on a case by case basis. After all, we dig up the recently buried, who still have mourning relatives, if they can yield some forensic evidence with which to convict murderers. Sacred Native Burial Grounds (for example) may still conceal the remains of those whom today's elders knew and loved; ancient Egyptian tombs do not. We should consider both the potential disrespect to the living, and the potential for scientific discovery.

  6. #6
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Archaeology (as I'm sure Pompey is aware) involves digging up artifacts; digging up bones is "physical anthropology". There has been some controversy here in the Pacific Northwest about "Kenniwick Man", a 10,000 year old skeleton that appeared to more closely resemble Europeans than Native Americans. The Native groups objected to anthropologists meddling with sacred burials, but their real objection was to the notion that early inhabitants of North America may have been some "other".
    Hey, Ecurb! I thought you might weigh in on this one. Yes, Kennewick Man was a mess. Interested parties hid behind supposedly ethical objections to suppress that which they did not wish to hear. The stink the Indians raised was an embarrassment to politicians, who generally saw concessions--to native groups, not archaeologists--as the safer response. my memory is that a court eventually ruled (not unreasonably) that scientists would be given a reasonable time to examine the remains, after which they were to be turned over to a native group that (rather dubiously) claimed kinship. The Indians reburied them.

    But the politics was not done playing out. The archaeologists analysis suggested that the Kennewick individual had been killed violently and later buried where he had been found (on a bank of the Columbia River). This raised a hope that the whole area might be a sacred burial ground, and that many examples of Kennewick Man could be recovered. This was an especially exciting prospect at a time when the Clovis First Hypothesis--the idea that the ancestors of the surviving Indians were the first humans in the Americas--was breaking down on the basis of new archaeological evidence. The Kennewick individual had a post-Clovis date, but he could have been descended from pre-Clovis migrants (still a controversial point--even with DNA analysis). Recovering a spectrum of remains would have been invaluable in assessing the first settlement of the New World--some individuals might even have been dated to the Pre-Clovis period.

    But we'll never know if the burial ground even existed. Before this hypothesis could be investigated, the Army Corps of Engineers dumped a deep field of enormous boulders over the area. They were acting in theory to prevent further erosion of the Columbia's crumbling banks. That was a genuine problem--erosion is what had exposed the skeleton in the first place. But Army Corps has been accused of acting precipitously to the scientific world with a fait accompli--at the behest, it is said, of a political establishment that saw one Kennewick Man as one too many. Keep the Indians quiet. I don't know the veracity of the charge, but it wouldn't surprise me. You may know more than I do about this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    It seems to me that we should proceed on a case by case basis. After all, we dig up the recently buried, who still have mourning relatives, if they can yield some forensic evidence with which to convict murderers. Sacred Native Burial Grounds (for example) may still conceal the remains of those whom today's elders knew and loved; ancient Egyptian tombs do not. We should consider both the potential disrespect to the living, and the potential for scientific discovery.
    Well, I don't disagree in principle, but the devil is in the details. Who exactly would the case-by-case arbiters be? International organizations have no executive power (and shouldn't be making such decisions anyway) so each country would have to do their own thing--and many have more pressing concerns. Here in the United States, interactions of local, state, and federal law (not to mention Indian treaties) are going cause infinite complications. So while your moderate position is admirable, I'm not sure it's going to get us very far.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  7. #7
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I assume the arbiters would be whomever has legal control of the land. If (for example) a sacred burial ground is on a reservation, the reservation government (about which I know next to nothing) should probably decide. Let's face it, anthropologists are not working on a cure for cancer; property owners are under no legal or moral obligation to allow them to root through their ancestors' graves if they have legal control of the property. We might object to anthropologists or historians rooting through our houses based on the same principle.

    Besides, I was thinking of the moral issue, not the legal one. My position won't get us very far legally, but if anthropologists were to adopt some variant of it as a professional norm, it might help. Of course the Indiana Joneses in the profession might ignore the norms to seek wealth and glory, but so was it ever.

    By the way, I don't know any more about Kennewick man than what I read in the newspapers, although I have been to Kennewick, Washington, jewel of the Tri-City area, which did not help me remember how to spell either the city or the skeleton. I was already through with my anthropology studies when the controversy arose, and haven't studied much anthropology since -- except for recently. I just finished editing my sister's book, which will apparently be published by Emory University Press (which, like many academic publishers, no longer provides adequate editing services). It's about the cultural adaptations of displaced steel workers in Bethlehem, PA, who lost jobs and pensions when Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt. It''s interesting to me in part because my first year out of college I coached the hockey team at Lehigh University, so I lived in Bethlehem.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 07-11-2018 at 06:20 PM.

  8. #8
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    By the way, I googled "Kennewick Man" and it seems the controversy has been resolved (to some extent) by improved DNA testing which shows the skeleton to be well within the range of DNA variation expected for Native Americans, and more closely related to Native Americans than to any other group. Here's a link: http://www.burkemuseum.org/blog/kenn...an-ancient-one

    Here's a link to a Smithsonian article recounting the history of the controversy: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/histo...e%253D2&page=3

  9. #9
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Oh, I know. I recommend First Peoples in a New World by David Meltzer on the DNA evidence (not stylistically great writing, but clear enough in a text-bookish way). There is still some controversy. As I said, the individual was post-Clovis so that complicates the DNA picture; and the claim of direct kinship by the group that actually buried the skeleton remains far-fetched. But the issue we were talking about was recovering human remains in the first place--whether it goes too far (as Cacian feels) and who gets the ultimate say (as you and I were discussing). Kennewick is as Kenniwick may be.

    I agree, by the way, that the issue comes down to who owns the land on which the remains are found, at least when that is known. When it isn't, as for example in the case of old university collections, I advocate a policy of leaving the remains where they are, but of course a private university can do as it likes. In the case of Indian land, the native governance makes the decision. I don't think that was the case with the Kennewick Man (I mean, I don't think he was found on native property--but I'm not sure). Of course I would prefer it if native people invested in a for-profit museum where further research could be conducted, but it's up to them.

    The problem of course is that huge swathes of the American West are federal land under control of the Bureau of Land Management. I assume that was the case with the area along the Columbia where the Kennewick Man was found, if only from the eventual intervention of the Army Corps of Engineers. By the way, I think the court judgment was a model compromise: both sides got what they wanted and neither liked it. Then along came an unelected bureaucrat with a bulldozer to make sure nothing so democratic could ever happen again. So there was a winner after all.

    I've driven along that part of the Columbia, by the way. It's beautiful country, as I'm sure you know.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-12-2018 at 03:06 PM.
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