A curious little story from Donegal this week. Briefly – adult human remains, believed to be ancient, were found in sand from a seaside quarry in Gweedore. A subsequent site investigation, by archaeologist Caroline Carr, uncovered the probable bones of a child and a team was then despatched from the National Museum. Over the weekend, however, and before they arrived, the latter remains disappeared.

Ms. Carr, the assistant curator of Donegal County Museum, went to the national media with an appeal and yesterday the missing bones were returned by an anonymous “amateur archaeologist“, via a reporter for TG4. Also handed over were other artefacts that the man had been collecting, at the same site and over the past 10 years. Apparently he had taken the bones away for “safe-keeping”. The relevant newspaper articles can be found, in order, here and here.

Obviously, there’s no point banging on too much about this one – he handed back a number of artefacts, as well as the remains. So he must now realise, presumably because of Ms. Carr’s public appeal and explanation, the gravity of what he did and what he has been doing, and feel embarrassed about it. It is, however, worth quoting her response here;

“Of course we are delighted to get the bones back and the other items but what he thought was being helpful has actually destroyed the site… We would urge anyone who has any concerns about the safety of such sites, not to touch anything but to contact the gardai”

Digging up ancient human bones like these and collecting them, seems disrespectful, cannibalistic almost, but you’d have to wonder how we tolerate so much – with a nod and a wink, or a look the other way – at the ‘non-human end of the scale’. Would the removal of the other items be regarded as seriously as this everywhere? Wasn’t digging up metal artefacts, for example, of a similar age and for a similar purpose, recently described as ‘heroic’ in England?