A personal account of what it means digging up the dead
‘Sarah identifies the ‘private heritage’ of the act of burial that ties mourners, through acts of material engagement, to a place. A landscape. A special corner, and afterwards our perceptions of place are never quite the same. ‘
I’ve never really enjoyed digging up the dead. But sometimes, we have to. It often comes down to a stark choice: we dig them up with a modicum of dignity, or they’d be scattered by a backhoe and ground to dust. You can argue all you like about the ethics, but once construction crews are waiting, you just have to get on with it.
This is an archaeologist’s personal perspective. It’s a response to the questions I’ve seen about what sets the process and philosophy of archaeology apart from Channel 5’s treatment of human remains in Battlefield Recovery. Enough ink has been spilled in condemnation of that show (see, for instance, this article). So instead, here’s an alternative: a reflection on dealing with the dead.
It was cold, that winter. Behind the back of Pizza Express, we were shielded from the worst of the wind, but needling gusts…
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