Durham University Archaeology Society Conference 2012

I have been forwarded on a conference announcement for an upcoming event at Durham University. It looks to be a promising event.

Durham University Archaeology Society Conference 2012
Title: Whose Past? An Interdisciplinary debate on the repatriation of artefacts and reburial of human remains
When: Saturday April 28th 2012- 09:00-18:00

Where: Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Dawson Building, Durham University Science Site
Durham University Archaeology Society is to hold a one day interdisciplinary conference, to be held at Durham University involving the Archaeology, Anthropology, Philosophy and Law departments from Durham and Newcastle University and selected guest speakers. This year’s theme ‘Whose Past’ aims to generate a stimulating debate about the ownership and ethical principles associated with two types of archaeological material; artefacts and human remains, with the focus on the repatriation of artefacts and reburial of human remains.

The day will be divided into two sessions themed based first on Artefacts, then on Human Remains. Each session will follow the same format- where a debate question is set and the two guest speakers argue one in proposition and the other in opposition. Each session will contain a mixture of archaeologists, anthropologists, philosophers and lawyers, who will provide their viewpoint, and then finally there is an open discussion for attendees to debate the theme and issues raised within the session. At the end of the day a conference conclusion debate will be held where conclusions will be drawn relating to the key themes and questions. In recent years the ethics and ownership of artefacts and human remains have entered the spotlight. The debate regarding the ownership of artefacts came under fire in the United Kingdom, due to the Crosby Garrett Helmet. The British museum is under increasing pressure to repatriate its most controversial artefacts including the Elgin Marbles, the Benin Bronzes, the Rosetta Stone and the Mold Gold Cape to name just a few.  The conference will explore issues raised relating to this example such as legislation relating to artefacts, repatriation, and stewardship/custodianship- should artefacts and human remains be kept for scientific research or given back to the indigenous community?

The repatriation of artefacts will be the key theme in the first session, with the debate question:  ‘Western
museums should take a sympathetic view to requests for the repatriation of cultural artefacts’. The repatriation of human remains has also been in the spotlight due to a number of recent cases including the repatriation of human remains from the Natural History Museum to the Torres Straits in March 2011, Namibian skulls from Germany in October 2011. The mummified Maori heads from France are expected to be repatriated in
January 2012 and back in 2006 British Museum repatriated human ashes back to Tasmania.

In August 2011, the druid King Arthur Pendragon had his case for the human remains found at Stonehenge, to be reburied immediately, rejected by the High Court. This legal case is the latest threat to burial archaeology including the legislative changes in 2008 which archaeologists argue is causing “severe damage to research and the advancement of knowledge”. The session will explore the issues including the treatment of the dead and reburial.

The debate question for the human remains session will be: ‘The recent legislative changes relating to human
remains are a threat to academic research’.

Jamie Davies
Durham University Archaeology Society Vice President
March 2012

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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