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Bones without Barriers

Dr Duncan Sayer

One of the most pressing issues in archaeology at the moment is ‘how to deal with the dead’? This is an issue of world-importance, and one that is dealt with differently across the globe. At present, the UK government is reviewing its position, something which will have long-lasting and far-reaching implications for archaeology in this country. Duncan’s research focuses on this issue: in his book, Ethics and Burial Archaeology, and in several articles he indicates that the ancient dead should not be hidden away but engaged with by the public and professionals alike.

This issue is dealt with directly at Oakington, a community excavation project, where the people of the village can witness the excavation of human remains. In 2010 Duncan received special permission to excavate these remains without a screen, and so the local community could experience the archaeological project, particularly important given that previous work on the site had been hidden away. Local school children visited the excavation and were so fascinated by what they saw they wrote a series of really touching letters to the UCLan students involved – published in British Archaeology 117 Mar/Apr print edition.

Carrying out archaeology with the public is important as it helps to foster the trust of the local community. If people can see archaeological they can see that it is ethical, honest and accountable. If it is hidden they may become suspicious and resentful. After all who are we to dig up their past?

Sayer D (2010) Ethics and Burial Archaeology. London, Duckworth.

Sayer D (2010) Who’s Afraid of the Dead. Archaeology, modernity and the death taboo. World Archaeology 42(3): 481-491.

Sayer D (2009) Is there a crisis facing British burial archaeology? Antiquity 83: 184-194.

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Further Information

Archaeology Research Group

School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences