A druid named King Arthur Pendragon has lost a legal bid to have human remains discovered at Stonehenge reinterred.
The cremated remains of more than forty individuals found at the stone circle in 2008 are currently being studied at Sheffield University. They’re due to remain there until 2015, at which point they’re supposed to be returned to Stonehenge. King Arthur stated in a BBC interview that the authorities have no plans to return the remains and he was fighting to have them reburied at once. The court rejected his claim, stating there was no evidence that the university and courts have acted outside the law.
King Arthur Uther Pendragon, shown here holding a staff and praying while celebrating the summer solstice at Stonehenge, is a prominent druid who often appears on British media. He had his name legally changed after he realized he was the reincarnation of King Arthur, his website says. King Arthur was one of the driving forces behind getting full public access for solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. He has also successfully campaigned for Druids to wear their traditional white robes while incarcerated, as he himself has been several times after political protests.
OK, I can practically hear the eyes rolling. Yes, this modern King Arthur is an eccentric like only an Englishman can be, but he’s bringing up a valid issue, and one that is contentiously debated in many nations. In the U.S., Native American groups have successfully lobbied to have human remains returned to them so they can be reburied in the traditional manner, rather than being left in museums to be studied. Native peoples in other nations have had varying levels of success.
One might also bring up the objection that the Celtic druids came long after the Neolithic, when Stonehenge was built, so that the stone circle isn’t a religious monument for them. But the fact is modern druids feel the site is sacred, and if we are to have freedom of religion, that means we have to accept not only Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, but also Druids, Mithraists, and Satanists. Freedom takes us outside our comfort zone.
In the past twenty years, public and academic opinion has generally shifted towards granting Native Peoples the rights to their remains, but the issue is less clear when it comes to prehistoric remains unrelated to any existing ethnic group. After 5,000 years, can the English really say they’re related to the people who built Stonehenge? The modern King Arthur says yes, but scientific opinion differs. This question has led to a lot of legal battles, especially in the U.S. with tribes claiming remains that archaeologists say don’t belong to them.
What do you think should be done with humans remains? “Don’t dig them up in the first place” isn’t always an option, since many remains come to light during modern construction or natural erosion. Tell us what you think in the comments section!
[Image courtesy Ann Wuyts]