Saturday, January 03, 2009

Meath Motorway Ancestors to be Reburied...

... well, some of them. Reburial seems to only be planned for those who the staff of the National Museum believes died less than 100 years ago. So, your grandmother gets reburied, but Fionn mac Cumhaill stays in the museum.
Human remains removed from the Scaruppa burial site near Enfield during roadworks there, and in the possession of the National Museum of Ireland, will be returned for reinterment, a museum spokesman has said.
A team of archaeologists excavating on the site six years ago, on what was to become part of the M4 motorway, uncovered the remains of 461 bodies dating from the fourth century up to the early 1960s. The site included a 'cillin’, a burial site for stillborn and unbaptised babies.


But for the ancestors whose graves have been paved over by the NRA, what will they think of having their bones reburied in a new location? And though I strongly support and commend Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith, for his activism and offers to perform the reburials, I also have to think of the ancestors who were not Christians. Still, if we can even get the bones of the older ancestors returned, I think it's far more respectful to bury them in Christian-consecrated ground than to leave them on display or in storage in a museum. I don't know much about Dr. Smith, but perhaps those participating in the reburial ceremony could aim for inclusion in this. There are many prayers from the Celtic Christian period that would serve well for both Christians and the Polytheists who proceeded them. Even if only the Christians get reburied, I would like to see any ceremony acknowledge all of those whose graves were violated.

Though this is definitely a step forward, so far the pre-Christian ancestors are still out of luck.


Gretchen said...

This is pretty amazing- amazing in the bad way.

I had not heard of this (since I'm hanging out in Midwestern US). I am appalled that they would put human remains in a museum less than a couple of hundred years old. In the US, the native peoples pretty much get a claim on the stuff white people have stolen from them and then put in museums (including remains). There is actually a controversy right now about some remains that are thousands of years old that one nation (not sure which) has claimed as their own. Some Nations allow for their ritual items or clothing to be in a museum and others- not.

But to have your grandmother/father dug up and put on display (or in a basement) is highly offensive and horrifying.

I'm glad something is being done, and I agree that they should have an inclusive ceremony as well.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

Thanks for your comment, Gretchen.

Though there have been some high-profile repatriations and reburials, it's still a problem for a number of Native American communities, as well: Is Your Grandmother's Skull in a Box in a Stranger's Closet?

Even among the Nations who have been aggressive about utilizing NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) to get remains and sacred objects out of museums, things from those Nations still turn up. Just this summer some Cheyenne people I know were traveling in the Midwest and found some of their ancestors' things in a small museum. They couldn't just take them, but had to start legal proceedings. I'm sure this museum knew all about NAGPRA, but were just choosing to ignore it until busted by people who know how to spot things. It's an ongoing struggle, in the US and in Ireland.

More on NAGPRA: