Tuesday, January 23, 2007

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.



BBC said...

Yesterday is the past. We need to keep looking ahead, not behind us.

Anti-Thesisofreason said...

Personally that is one thing that has made me dance between cremation and burial when I pass on. I think about constructing a great tomb dedicated to my life with furniture and clothing, jewlery, the works! Only with the hopes that one day someone would dig me up and put me on display as an example of the way we once lived and died.
I wouldn't have a problem with it at all as a matter of fact I would encourage it, I would want my tomb to be something of a time capsule. Think of the possibilities!

However, reality soon takes over and I realise what the cost would be for such an undertaking and I decide well there is always cremation.

BBC said...

Just grind me up and toss me out in the forest so that I'm still being useful and my genes and DNA keep doing their thing.

Nothing in nature is wasted. Only humans (monkeys) waste things.

Anti-Thesisofreason said...

I'm leaning more toward the cremate me thing and having the family put together a simple timecapsule type of thing that will be buried somewhere (without my remains).
I'm with you bbc toss me in the woods somewhere.

ronan said...

I've signed-up for "whole body donation". They donate your organs first (normal organ donation), then tissues, then the rest can be used for research or for docs-in-training to practice on. When everything is finished, any remaining part of your body is cremated, and you can have your ashes sent to a family member if you want.

I'll never know if everything goes according to plan, but that's the plan.

Rosie said...

In eighteenth/nineteenth century Egypt, mummies were so plentiful...more plentiful than firewood...that they were burned as fuel.

I'd just as soon let the buzzards eat me.

sopka said...

Whole body donation good my husband grandparents were atheists and went that.

ronan said...

Rosie, my romantic side would go with the buzzards (ala Tibetan and Zoroastrian "sky burial"). Choosing whole body donation is my practical side, since sky burial does not seem to be available in the USA, and since the organs, tissues, and other uses for a cadaver can be beneficial to many people.

Also, whole body donation is free; this company charges $15 S/H if you want your ashes shipped to someone. Having my family spend money for burial or cremation just seems silly to me.

Anonymous said...

because of this blog, i have to do a 5 paragraph essay. thanks... can i have 3 pros and 3 cons of this?