Thursday, 20 October 2011

Issue: Treatment of the Ancient Deceased

“The human body, alive or dead, has a moral value” – Frank Rühli

This blog refers to an article written in the magazine New Scientist, and more specifically the article titled “Ancient mummies have rights, too” by Jo Merchant. In the article, Merchant discusses how mummies weren’t always seen to have been ‘real’ people with families, morals, and a say in how their bodies would be treated after death. Ancient mummies were commonly assumed to be fair game for science. This perception is now beginning to change.

Anatomist Frank Rühli and ethicist Ina Kaufmann argue that “it is disturbing because research on mummies is invasive and reveals intimate information such as family history and medical conditions.” Rühli and Kaufmann are suggesting that mummies be treated as if they were a recently deceased person of today. I think that this particular concept about ancient mummies could also be applied to Native American burials.

I have found that many of those who want to dig up Native American burials use the excuse that goes along the lines of ‘these people have been dead for hundreds of years and have no direct lineage to any living person.’ Native Americans believe that all of their dead are still as much part of their family dead as they were alive. The concept of ancient mummies being real people should also therefore be applied to Native American burials.

Every burial, no matter how old or new it is, can provide extremely valuable information about the deceased’s life, family, and medical history. It may further provide information regarding the culture and society that the deceased lived in.

Merchant mentions that although it would be difficult to create a universal policy regarding the ethical treatment of mummies, a checklist of questions to consider would be useful.

It is unfair to treat any ancient body without the respect that one would treat a more recently deceased body with. One must at the very least consider his responsibility towards the body before invading it.

Link to the article:

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