HUMAN REMAINS

This is a ‘food for thought’ essay about human remains.

When we die, we have a straight choice, depending on our religion, whether to be buried or cremated.

Bodies are buried in a coffin in a cemetery of a church or temple.

Within a short period of time, the bodies decompose and become merely a skeleton of bones.

Modern forensic science using DNA enables anyone buried to be identified through the bones and teeth long later after their death.and  in some cases, thousands of years afterwards.

Everybody is entitled to be left to rest in peace where they are buried after they die.

Everybody should have a final resting place but often they do not.

Throughout history, graves have been robbed of people buried there and of artifacts buried with them.  People are displaced by war and ethnic cleansing, quite recently in Yugoslavia.

It is the task of forensic specialists to estimate the age, gender and stature of skeletal human remains.

Aerial and satellite photography, ground penetrating radar, metal detectors and even cadaver dogs can all play a supporting role to identifying human remains

UNESCO have in place laws which prohibit anything or anyone being excavated or exhumed from a world heritage site such as Pompeii in Italy and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

This extends to burial sites and a battleground where a historical war has been fought.

There might be genuine circumstances where human remains can be exhumed from their burial place in order to know more about their past life such as the Bog Man in Denmark but there are sensitive issues surrounding this.

In the case of a missing soldier whose relatives are still living, in a homicide-murder investigation or in the case of a mass grave from ethnic cleansing, there may be some justification too.

The existence of museums fuels public interest in the name of cultural tourism.

Archaeologists provide artifacts and antiquities to those museums which include historic remains.

It is debatable whether the tourist is culturally interested in what he or she is seeing or it is pure sightseeing out of curiosity and opportunity.

Suddenly, the world wants to know and find out whether for example William Shakespeare is really buried in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford upon Avon and whether Lisa Gheradini Gioconda, buried beneath an italian convent since 1542, is really the ‘Mona Lisa’ painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Furthermore, a man who is believed to be Adolf Hitler is buried in a cemetery outside of Surabaya in Indonesia.  Should he be exhumed just to prove a point from DNA forensic analysis that it is him or not?

What did it prove when the remains of explorer Christopher Columbus were subjected to forensive analysis?

The truth is that we may be stepping too far over the line in the field of forensic science and usingcultural tourism too much as a marker if we exhume human remains simply because we have the means and know how to do so.

There are many people who have never been given the human dignity of a proper burial.

Mountaineer Rob Lowe springs to mind in this respect, one of the many, many people who have died on Mount Everest in the Himalayas and who lie frozen in the snow.

Whatever the sentiments, the extraction and public display of human remains remains a controversial topic.

 

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