Wednesday 27 March 2013

Nighthawks out to get Bones now? Or just a convenient story?

It seems illicit artefact diggers are suspected of being capable of stealing anything in England (though the official story is that there is very little looting going on). Archaeologists have exhumed bones from an unmarked grave in Winchester over fears that they might be stolen or vandalised. Following on from the recent "King in a Carpark" hoo-ha, another royal exhumation is in the headlines. Wessex king Alfred the Great's remains were shifted about a bit since his death in 899, last reliably (?) seen in Hyde Abbey at the time of the Dissolution of the latter by Henry VIII in the 1530s. Story ends, one might have thought, but myths linger on. Over to St Bartholomew Church in Winchester, Hampshire, where  [Andrew Napier, 'Bones exhumed in Winchester could be King Alfred the Great', Southern Daily Echo 26th March 2013]:
Bones that could be King Alfred the Great have been removed from a Winchester churchyard. Amid great secrecy, archaeologists exhumed the unmarked grave at St Bartholomew's in Hyde on Monday, diocesan chiefs announced today. Human skeletal remains were found and have been taken for storage at an undisclosed location. The exhumation was undertaken with no pre-publicity because there were concerns about the security, said a diocesan spokesman Nick Edmonds. He said: “I cannot go into detail. It was regarded to be a real threat. People were concerned about someone turning up with a pickaxe and doing some DIY on the grave.”
"People"? Wouldn't be the people that would have found it a bit more difficult to get permission to exhume the remains without such a story would it? Come on, what is the story? Now the bones are safely stored where those nasties cannot get them, there will be no harm in revealing just what the actual facts are, would there? They were not metal detectorists were they? Tell us.
 The excavation was approved by Chancellor of the Diocese of Winchester, Judge Christopher Clark QC, whose order imposed confidentiality on the proceedings, said Mr Edmonds. He declined to confirm the financial details of any agreement between the church and the TV journalists [...] The work was commissioned by St Bartholomew's, supported financially by Hyde900, the community group. No formal permission for scientific investigation has yet been given, although approval must be viewed now as a formality. 
 Katie Tucker, an archaeologist from the University of Winchester leading the search is quoted in the Daily Mail as admitting that  would be difficult to prove any remains are his, but they are going to get radiocarbon dates for them: 
She said: ‘If the bones are from around the 10th century then that is proof they are Alfred and his family, because Hyde Abbey was not built until the 12th Century, and there is no reason for any other bones from the 10th Century to be there.’
No, it is not proof of any such thing, it is only evidence that these are some tenth century bones from somewhere. 
It is thought the exhumed grave may hold the bones of the king after a possible earlier burial of him under the nearby ruined Hyde Abbey was dug up in the 19th century and then reburied in the churchyard.
Maybe it is time for British archaeologists to get on with doing some real archaeology. Not providing illustrations for 'kings and battles' history.

Vignette: Vesalius despair

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