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a british druid by william stukeley

 The National Secular Society believes that the National Trust and English Heritage have abdicated their clear responsibility to the nation to turn down the requests from the Council of British Druid Orders (CoBDO) an unelected and unaccountable group,  for the reburial of ancient human remains at the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury.

So say The Secular Society in their response to English Heritage’s public consultation. CoBDO’s claim is of course an absurd assumption, because it is impossible to claim ancestral links that far back. We know little of the funerary practices, use of barrow monuments, or ritual beliefs of the old ‘stone age’ people.

Archaeologists have sparse knowledge from what little evidence remains; that we can look on these monuments and preserve them, and treat ancient old human bones with respect is of course the right way forward, but to tangle the argument with modern day Druidism and its newly found rituals is a foolishness.

Not that any religion or belief system should not be given the respect it is due today, that is not the argument, it is the interference and the supposition on the part of a small group of Druids that they consider they have a right to interpret a past religion.

Science has come a long way forward in understanding human history, through the study of bones we know more about our past. Even archaeologists, whose job it is to ‘delve and dig’ feel that moment of direct connection with the bones of the individuals that they may encounter, here is part of a letter published in the current edition of British Archaeology.

“We don’t know much about the religious beliefs of these people, but know that they wanted to be remembered, their stories, mounds and monuments show this. Their families are long gone, taking all memory with them, and we archaeologists, by bringing them back into the world, are perhaps the nearest they have to kin. We care about them, spending our lives trying to turn their bones back into people. We look at the things they made and used, and, by enjoying the things that they enjoyed, human hands and minds touch over the centuries. Their bones give us direct evidence of who they were, where they came from, how they lived and even what they looked like. The more we know the better we can remember them.”

This surely shows that we all have a common humanity, a respect for the dead, the issue is complex, ancient bones reside in museum showcases and in archaeological storehouses, their fate must be decided by more rational means than a sentimental response, or perhaps more importantly, a modern belief system that wishes to usurp an old belief system that we know nothing about.

Judgment always walks a fine line, the argument has many strands leading to its centre, but it is well to remember that our lives are short lived, our belief systems vanish with the winds, all that is left are the old stones, monuments to a past way of life. Religions on the other hand are balanced on words, the need of humanity to express itself in a different form.




February 2009

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