Digging Up Grandma
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" We enjoy your company, but please watch your beverage and see that you don't stain the furniture.
Something's been bothering me for a long time.
I think this nagging idea came back to me when I heard that the treasures of King Tut are scheduled to make a stop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Actually I've been nagged by this notion before but never resolved it. The notion is this: Should we perform archeology?
Well, now you think I'm a rube. (Have I ever disabused you of that idea?) How in the world would we learn about the past if we didn't open up these old tombs and shove their contents out into the hands of scholars? Think of all we've gained from the excavations of the Mississippi Mound Builders, the Pharaohs, the Barrows of the British Isles, the Catacombs!
Except for one thing. We're digging up dead people and taking their stuff.
Oh, it's all well and good if the stuff we dig up and take belonged to some kid king 3000 years ago or such much. What, are his children going to complain? Are his heirs going to step forward and demand the items be returned? Hardly.
Suppose for a moment, though, that an archeologist dug up your grandmother's coffin, pried it open, and used those sharp little exacto-knives to pull apart and study the strands of polyester fabric in her best church dress. That's your granny on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art! And she looks a mess! She looks ... dead. And there's her wedding ring, under a glass. And the thick spectacles she wore because they didn't have good cataract surgery then. And the Eastern Star pins she earned from years of service, hung on a wall, also behind shatterproof glass.
Rich people with museum memberships are staring at your dead granny while sipping champagne.
I started feeling uncomfortable with this little wrinkle years ago, during my college years. One of my classes was Human Osteology. We studied normal skeletons. They came from poor people in the Third World who actually sold their skeletons before they died and got good money for something they eventually wouldn't need anymore.
The abnormal skeletons came from the aforementioned Mound Builders of Mississippi, ca. 900 AD. These scattered bones, all helter skelter and stained with age, showed missing teeth from arthritic jaws, bone spurs jutting from heels, long growths of arthritic deposit on vertebrae. Once we finished looking at them, the bones went back to their carefully-numbered drawers in the Smithsonian Institution.
That's someone's granny, in a drawer in a big concrete building. She thought her bones would spend eternity in a spectacular mound, with all her kinfolk of a dozen generations. But no. Now a few pieces of her rest in Washington, DC, and the rest of her -- and the kin -- have been scattered all over the place, in the name of science.
This bothers the bored gods very much. Just so you know.
THE MERLIN OF BERKELEY SPRINGS