In October 2008, the Dept. of Culture, Media & Sport, (DCMS), English Heritage, (EH), and the National Trust (NT), launched a public consultation on the subject of the reburial of various human remains from archaeological excavations, stored in museums and universities around the country,some on display. These "bones of our ancestors" as they have been called, are mainly from our pagan, pre-christian past, and belong to the period of "pre-history", from before 1 AD. As a test case, a small group chose the remains contained in the Alexander Keiller museum at Avebury, of a small child nicknamed "Charlie", as the starting point for requesting this public consultation, which runs until 15/02/09, and has been named by EH, the "Avebury Reburial Consultation" You will see below our Official Response to this Process, plus Addendum.
The Official Council of British Druid Orders Response to the Avebury Reburial Consultation Process.
The status of those making the request and continuity with the remains
The Council of British Druid Orders, CoBDO, is the registered trademark of a non-profit making umbrella group of twenty one separate druid orders and several thousand members throughout the British Isles, that has been in existence since February 1989. It represents all those druids and druid pagan groups involved in the rekindling of druidry as a public national religion, and has links with all other major druid groups.
(Please see Member List: for a complete list of all our member orders and associates around the country.)
The Paul Davies who was associated with us in 2006, was specifically asked NOT to represent us as a reburial officer, after a vote of the whole Council, but chose instead to leave and pass himself off€¯ as ourselves by unlawful use of our registered trademark name and intellectual property. (see Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, 1/02/07, etc)
We also dispute the inaccurate history of our organisation given by Mr. Davies in various documents, and feel that English Heritage and National Trust should note that neither Paul Davies nor any of those mentioned in section 2 Background, (specifically section 2.3, as having taken part in a series of meetings with Sebastian Payne, chief scientist, EH, and David Thackray, chief archaeologist, NT) were members of CoBDO, or had any authority from CoBDO to attend such meetings or to speak for us.
However, as CoBDO has been cited, unbeknownst to us, as the basis for a request to DCMS to consider the Avebury reburial issue, if has therefore become necessary for the authentic CoBDO to become involved in this matter, and set the record straight.
As a result of a meeting which took place in London on Saturday 6th December 2008, fifteen current heads of orders, present or by proxy, took part in ratifying a combined unified response to this request, which can legitimately be called the actual policy of the real CoBDO.
Whilst we realise that there is little point or academic virtue in duplicating material of Mr. Davies with which we agree, nevertheless there are one or two fundamental points of divergence with the way the request was made, and subsequently responded to, that we wish to highlight in this appendix.
Whilst the real CoBDO recognises that there is no evidence that the genetic relationship of the members of any druid and/or pagan group with the human remains at Avebury is any closer than their relationship with most of the population of Western Europe, it nevertheless considers the claim for continuity of belief and customs, (if not language) with the human remains, to be of paramount importance.
The fact that the little girl (?) whose remains lie in the Alexander Keiller Museum was found in the ditch at Windmill Hill, a major satellite of the Avebury sanctuary complex, clearly signifies association, on behalf of herself and/or her parents, with the ancient native pagan belief structure which the Avebury sanctuary complex itself represents, as this was unlikely to have been a random burial.
Although it might be stated that we have no clear idea which€¯ specific native religion she or her parents adhered to, as we do not know the names of the various faiths practiced at that time, nevertheless the term pagan is the best umbrella designation we have for those of pre-christian religious persuasion.
As the modern incarnation of these several belief structures and pagan pre-historic cultural pursuits, druids and pagans who likewise revere the sanctity of the Avebury complex, in this day and age, are descendants in belief of that same belief structure that not only led the megalithic builders to construct Avebury, but has also led countless generations subsequently to revere the Avebury complex and the sanctity it represents.
Indeed, all scholarly interpretation of modern pagan cultural belief systems, stress continuity of custom with the ancients, in respect of the reverence paid to sun and moon as religious symbols, ceremonial uses of fire and water, and earth burial and respect for the ancestors, in particular. Archaeologists are well aware of the proximity of cemeteries and human remains to sacred precincts throughout the British Isles, and those buried in the faith€¯ of those times.
The Cultural, Spiritual and Religious Significance of the Remains.
CoBDO is as aware as are English Heritage and National Trust, of the cultural and spiritual significance of the remains to others besides Druids and Pagans, and of their contribution to appreciation and understanding of the past. But the Council of British Druid Orders is also aware that replicas of said remains can be produced for museum display purposes, and/or latest techniques in 3D imaging. After all everyone knows what a skeleton looks like.
The Scientific, Educational and Historic Value of the Remains.
Whilst CoBDO appreciates the important contribution to archaeological research and understanding of our shared past made by such remains, and is not averse to scientific analysis and examination of such remains, it remains adamantly in refutation of retention of such remains, and endorses the original claims made for reburial of all such remains after examination, on humane grounds.
In dealing with the options suggested by DCMS, CoBDO would like to draw the attention of all those taking part in this survey to the following.
a) Reburial in a way which would make the remains unavailable for further examination.
CoBDO feels that this is not an option, short of pulverising any such remains, and, further, would like to advise participants in this process, which has after all been done in our name, that they should be aware of not falling into the trap of choosing between options a) and b), and thereby splitting the vote for reburial, in favour of option c) retention in a museum.
b) Reburial in a way which ensures that the remains are still available for future examination.
CoBDO feels that this is the real option for those in favour of reburial, as the ultimate and preferred end process to scientific investigation.
c) Retention in the Museum in a way which shows respect for the CoBDO beliefs (e.g. by providing access for ceremonies) where reasonably practicable.
CoBDO feels that this shows no respect for our beliefs whatsoever. Indeed it is more than insulting. We do not believe that there are any druids or pagans who wish to perform ceremonies with the bones of once living people, whether ancient or modern. The subject being dealt with here is respect for ancestral remains, not necromancy. It is a matter of common human decency to inter the bones of the deceased, not gawp at them in a glass case. Replicas or 3-D imaging can present the matter sufficiently well, if thought desirable, although it seems to us a somewhat morbid fascination. There are enough good pictorial images of what life in prehistoric times might have been like, without dwelling on skeletal evidence.
Further to the above, CoBDO would like to state that all human remains, whether buried or cremated, contained within known sacred precincts or simply laid to rest in the more customary manner, should be put back after scientific examination, where friends and relations had put them, or as close thereby as possible.
CoBDO believes that all over the world, in every belief, friends and relations handed bodies or cremated remains over to the earth, as part of the practice of saying goodbye and moving on. Therefore human remains found in the earth, belong to the earth. The earth has ownership. An ownership that should be re-established. And this should be made common archaeological practice.
Official Council of British Druid Orders Response to the Avebury Reburial Consultation Process
Whilst the above report to the DCMS Avebury Reburial Consultation, by the genuine and authentic CoBDO, contains our theoretical approach to the subject, within DCMS guidelines, by which, we, CoBDO, stand; nevertheless our combined membership feel that we should not let the consultation period come to a close, without first submitting one or two practical pointers, as to how such as our suggestions for reburial might be implemented, which we would hope might be of interest, and useful, to the archaeological community as well.
In brief, there are two aspects of actual reburial that give most cause for concern :-
a) method, b) location; particularly if such remains might be required for further scientific examination at a later date.
a) The method of actual reburial, can perhaps be resolved, by the use of specially sealed steel canisters, should such remains be thought particularly vulnerable and valuable, in the face of contamination, soil erosion, etc., and
b) The location selected for reburial, can be as close to the original site of excavation as possible, but, in more well-known instances, just far away enough as to make detection/removal unlikely, if not impossible, as the exact location would only be known to, and recorded by, local archaeological authorities, and the reburial ceremony would be private and unadvertised, with only trusted members of the druid/pagan community in attendance.
Or, conversely, the reburial ceremony could be a memorial one instead, held in public, and well advertised, but not actually take place at the location of the reburial, but be linked to, or held at, the original site of excavation, in memory of a human being found there, but recently reburied, somewhere in the vicinity.
We will now save until last, our particular frame of reference, which may well go a long way towards alleviating the commonly held misconception amongst archaeologists, that druids and pagans wish to strip every museum and university in the land, of their hard won specimens of human remains from various locations and time spans of British pre-history.
On the contrary. We, the real CoBDO, believe that reburial is a gradual process, that can only be done on a case by case basis. We know that certain remains are key to ongoing scientific research, and we are well aware of the scientific advances that could not have been made recently without them. Carbon 14 dating, to name but one such process.
However, we believe that even archaeologists themselves are aware of the fact that in some areas, they have evidence over and above what is actually required at the moment, or in the future, and that the remains that they have in storage, or at least some of them, are indeed surplus to requirements. Again, to name but one instance, Col. Hawley in his 1920s excavations at Stonehenge, gave up, and didn’t even bother with Aubrey Holes 32-56, expecting only more of the same of what he had got already from Aubrey Holes 1-31. And, since his time, no-one has bothered with them since, even though the possibility might have been available to the recent Riverside Project excavations, conducted by friends Julian Richards and Mike Parker Pearson, for instance.
There are degrees of controversy surrounding human remains from the pre-christian era, and their various repositories; from the unknown specimens which sit in cardboard boxes in dark basements, because they are just more of the same€¯, for which no-one seems to have any practical use; through to the more famous ones, such as the little girl(?) in the Alexander Keiller museum at Avebury, for whom archaeologists would like to preserve access in the future, should new scientific techniques become available. Somewhere in here, is a reasonable, and workable, compromise.
Were she/he to be safely re-interred in a vacuum sealed container, in another (unknown to the public) part of Windmill hill, whilst a replica, or a 3-D image of her remains was created that still belonged to the museum; would we, the scientific community and pagan community, be poorer, or richer? Poorer by a small monetary sum no doubt.
But richer as human beings, in our common humanity, undoubtedly. We would be showing our forefathers and foremothers the same respect at the end of their lives, and subsequently, the deep peace and rest of the good earth, such as we (unless we prefer cremation) would wish ourselves, undisturbed, or at least, replaced in the earth after any exhumation, until our bones became the soil of future generations.
Richer also we would be, to know that we had completed this process, for all those poor souls whose bones lay stranded in limbo, undoubtedly. And richer we would be, if for no other reason, that we would be paying the same respect to pagan burials in pagan cemeteries, as by law, has to be paid to christian burials and christian cemeteries. Beyond all that, we would all be richer because, if nothing else, re-interment or reburial of human artefacts after examination, is simply a matter of common human decency, and, as said before, should be made as much a matter of common archaeological practice, as it is a matter of course, everywhere else.
¯© Rollo Maughfling, Founder Member, Council of British Druid Orders. January 2009.