Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rant: digging up Richard III

It's not my rant but Howard Williams' of the University of Chester, referred to me by Guy Halsall.  Here is part of it:

Worshipping Dead RoyalsThe third objectionable aspect of the excavation of Richard III is the royal cult of personality that surrounded the excavation and the respect shown to his remains. I personally don’t have time for those that fawn over present-day living royals and their sprogs, but it seems somehow cut-rate and sordid to be fawning over long-dead royals in the hope of ‘rewriting the history books’ or getting to know their true person through their bodies. I can imagine the same sensitive facial reconstructions done for the butchers of the 20th century and imagine cult followers shedding tears over their sensitive small moustaches and their kind eyes.
Now I am sure Will, Kate and little baby George are all lovely. Even the Duke of Edinburgh makes me laugh. However, this royal necrophilia gets right up my archaeonose. Rather than the scientific study of human remains to understand life and death, this becomes a faux-forensic investigation into the individual’s life and death. Whether hero or villain, it is ironic that our obsession with the remains of the individual cadaver of Richard III flies in the face of the aspirations we have as a discipline for writing about the past in a social and humanising way.  Implicated in this view is that only rich and powerful people in the past matter today. In other words; the bones of toffs are venerated today as sacred, the bones of plebs are trowel fodder.
There is a strong case for Leicester cathedral to create a medieval equivalent to Westminster Abbey’s ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’. If you want to spend a million, select one of the many thousands of medieval graves we archaeologists have dug up – an old woman who died of leprosy, an infant who died in childbirth – and create a monument for them that makes us reflect on present-day poverty in the rest of the world and how many millions live in poverty today and die in agony from curable diseases. Don’t honour a warmongering royal, honour humanity.

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