web analytics

Madame, present your license

Today, I was asked if I had a license to hold human remains. Well, not me, obviously. The historic society I work for.

Sir, this is an archive, not a charnel house.

I can’t even work out how you get one. There are tons of resources out there for how you import, store, handle, display or repatriate human remains, but none of them mentions a permit.

The backstory is that all building work in certain areas requires an official archeologist to be at the site to sift through anything you dig up. This is a good thing (tho expensive). If you wonder how on earth they found Richard III’s body under a parking lot, this is it.

And before the dig begins, the archeologist must find an appropriate place to store anything they might find. If there isn’t a big local museum (and sometimes even if there is), finds often go to the county council, where they are put in boxes and warehoused à la the end of Indiana Jones.

This is a pretty good thing, too. Every once in a while, a local archeology group will get a little money together and revisit stuff. Like, eight years ago, Eastbourne Borough Council’s museum service got a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (yet another good thing) to re-examine 300 skeletons that had been deposited with them over the years.

The most interesting find was Beachy Head Lady, a woman who grew up in southeast England during the Roman occupation. She was of sub-Saharan African descent!

My favorite, though, was a specimen from an archeology program we watched once. I’m irritated that I can’t find a link online; you’ll have to take my word. The bones had little holes drilled in them, almost certainly for re-articulating the skeleton. Thing is, whoever did it didn’t bother getting all the bones from the same body, so it’s not like it was a revered ancestor or anything.

You got that? Somebody dug up ancient bones and strung them together for purposes unknown. I believe it was a prehistoric proto-Hallowe’en prank and nothing will convince me otherwise.

Oh, one other thing I learned today. I, personally, technically need a license of some kind. I think. Someone once gave me a box of 19th Century microscope slides from University of Philadelphia Med School, including human tissue – a thing covered in the Human Tissue Act of 2004. I can be bothered to find out if I’m in breach.

September 30, 2020 — 8:09 pm
Comments: 5