At the beginning of the week I watched the documentary Standing with Stones. It’s a wonderful journey through many of Albion’s ancient sacred sites that took 8 years to film and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in archaeology, Paganism and the ancient ways of our ancestors. At the end of the film the presenter gave a wonderful speech that asked where are these people now? His answer is they are still here. It is us. I think that can be quite a hard thing to accept, living in a country that has been invaded a number of times, with it’s own boundaries and human-constructed barriers that keep people apart. But then you have the story of the archaeological dig in Cheddar caves where they checked the DNA of prehistoric bones found in the legendary cave system in the village with school children and teachers who lived there today. Remarkably one of the teachers had similar DNA as some of those bones, and two schoolchildren had exact matches! Their families had lived in or near Cheddar for over 12,000 years! Cheddar on the political map of Britain is in England, a place supposedly over run with not only Romans, but also Anglo Saxons and then the Normans. Some would have it that all of the ‘indigenous’ peoples of Britain migrated to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany, but obviously they didn’t.
Now I’m a Gemini. An air sign, so when I get thinking I really get thinking. And I got thinking… and where these thoughts led me was to the way we treat ancient remains at archaeological digs.
There is currently discussion about bones that were re-dug up from the grounds of Stonehenge. I say re-dug up because they were dug up in the early 20th century, then reburied, then dug up again more recently so people can explore them again using our current advances in science. There are two arguments concerning these bones. Obviously we want to understand our ancient roots so this research is extremely valuable, but some say we should keep them in a box in a museum for further research. Then there are others who say that these were living people and that their remains should be returned to the ground once the research has finished. Being a typical Gemini I could see both sides, and found it hard to have an actual opinion. However, after hearing the speech of the presenter of Standing with Stones it made things clear to me.
I’ve heard people say about their own bodies, and I have agreed with them in the past, that once we die it doesn’t matter what happens to my our bodies. We have gone, it’s just an empty shell. It doesn’t matter. But what does that say about my relationship to my body? What does that really say about how I feel about this wonderful city of cells, of blood and bone, that has been my home in this lifetime? Of the brain that has imagined music, the voice that has sung, and the fingers that have played their music? Of the arms that have held my children and the people I have loved? Of the tears shed in pain and joy? Have I become so disassociated with my body that I just see it as a vehicle to carry the real me around until I die and then I’ll get a new one, like a new car? When I realised this I also realised how wrong these thoughts were.
For thousands of years when a loved one passed away those who remembered them wanted to say goodbye and the body is what represented the remains of that loved one. Now if we apply that to our ancient ancestors they not only loved these people, but they built massive Long Barrows and Chambered Tombs to hold their remains. Sometimes the bones would be taken out, but then they would be replaced. Some of these tombs were in use for nearly 1000 years. Since ancient times humans have respected the remains of the dead through burial or cremation. So how long have human remains got to be in the ground before it’s alright to dig them up and keep them in a box in a museum, or even put them on show as a exhibit? Would we dig up a Victorian grave? Further back? You see I think it’s our disassociation from these people that makes it ok. Many of us look at Stonehenge and don’t see a monument built by our direct ancestors. But why?
I recently joined ancestry.co.uk to look into my ancestry and managed to trace my family tree on both my parent’s lines right the way back to the early 1600s. Just 10 generations, but in those 10 generations are 882 ancestors. Take that back to the Neolithic and we are talking crazy numbers. Without doubt some of those will have been living here on this island. So the bones in that box in the museum could be our direct ancestors. So for me this disassociation between myself and the bones from these ancient graves has dissolved completely.
So I am of the same people who built these sites. They are our ancestral sites. This brings them even closer. And the people who built them, the people who lived there on Mount Caburn, Cadbury, Cissbury, some of them are probably my ancestors. They are a part of me, and you. So what to do about the bones?
Most of us will agree that it is important to learn more about the ways of our ancient ancestors, and a part of that is learning through remains. But when we have finished, I do believe we should return them to their resting place. In the same way as Native Americans holds dear to their hearts the spiritual homes of their dead, I think we should honour them in the same way. At some point, way too far back for many to care, these bones were placed in the earth, in the tomb, by a community that loved them. They were human and had the same emotions we have now. Those seemingly empty shells held the spirit of a human being who laughed, cried, ate, drank, loved, just as we do. And although I once didn’t really care what happened to my body after I die, I realise how crazy that way of thinking was. There is no separation between body, mind and spirit, so I will ask those who I leave behind to honour this body. Give it to fire, and place half of me on the Long Man of Wilmington, and half on the cliffs of Boscastle – my two spiritual homes. And there a part of me will remain. That is my wish, so if you are reading this in 5000 years time – DON’T DIG ME UP!