Thursday, 22 July 2010

Virtual worlds.

Professor Vince Gaffney, of the University of Birmingham uses powerful radio-wave imaging to produce virtual images of  'lost' ground hidden under years of soil and superficial disturbances. My recent investigation into Woodhenge has left me dismayed at what almost amounts to the destruction of archaeological sites, by archaeologists; which could have been assuaged by good record keeping!

So I'm pleased to hear of a recent discovery made, using geomatics, close to Stonehenge [LINK]

This doesn't mean of course that it wont be dug up.  The careless loss of evidence by archaeologists in the past  is frustrating, but that is now really and truly a thing of the past. The removal of bodies for display -or even just for scientific research- is a more serious wrong than losing bits of chalk or failing to write everything down.

In the past the removal of human remains was justified, by taking care that the body remained intact,   I hope this too is now a thing of the past - for it is an act of both ignorance and arrogance.

For the myths we live by play a crucial role in determining behaviour, and I hope that now we have enough education to be able to to respect the mythologies of other cultures.

Britain was once a Christian country and in Christian mythology, a body should be kept whole and buried in 'Sacred' ground, ready for resurrection. The practice of cremation, rather than burial, was indigenous in Britain during the Neolithic and Bronze age periods. With the introduction of Christianity cremation became rare, and had ended by the 5th century:

"The first re-emergence of interest in cremation in modern times was in 1658 in an essay Hydriotaphia: Urn Burial, by Sir Thomas Browne, a physician from Norwich, but it was in 1664 in a book entitled Philosophical Discourses of the Virtuosi of France that it was first advocated as an alternative to burial. During the next two centuries numerous other discussions on this question took place but the grand revival of the subject really occurred in 1869 when it was presented to the Medical International Congress of Florence by Professors Coletti and Castiglioni "in the name of public health and civilization".Reference.
It seems that a new mythology of health and hygiene -plus the evidence from over stuffed graveyards:  the cholera epidemic of 1848/49 left almost 15,000 dead in London alone- did much to change burial practices in Britain. Nevertheless medieval artistic representations of 'The end of the world' show corpses getting up, out of their graves for the 'Final Judgment'.

When the Cunningtons removed the bones from Woodenge ditch they were abiding by the rules of their mythology. The bones were taken to a scientifically 'sacred' space to provide information, so that the bones may *speak* telling a story of the age of the deceased and his or her living conditions and provide knowledge. The Christian sentiment that the bones should be kept together was incidentally respected .

But removing  the bones from their place of burial destroys knowledge and may well lead -as in the case of the Woodhenge child- to the destruction of the bones. It would have been better for everyone if the bones had been left in place.

I cannot see a sarcophagus with its mummy displayed without knowing how offensive this is to the belief's of the people who took such care to preserve their dead in this way. The Ancient Egyptian concept of death is portrayed as a journey through the land of night; through The Amduaat. The funerary text known as 'The Twelve Gates' describes the destruction (at the second and I think the fith hours?)  of those souls who have not received proper burial rites.

It was considered  *improper* to be buried in such a way that ones corpse will be disturbed, for the preserved body acts as a kind of source-code for the virtual/spiritual aspect.

The soul, in Christian mythology is thought of as *eternal* this is not so for the ancient Egyptians. By digging up and removing the body from its burial ground, the person whose remains have been *stolen* dies twice.

It is offensive to act as if one's truth is the only truth when that particular truth cannot be tested.

Most of us do not believe in the soul, contemporary myth mirrors our understanding of computers and hence the soul is regarded as an emergent property of myriad neurones, and death as a final *shutting down*  but in the past, around the time when agriculture was *new technology* life and death were seen in terms of seeds and a mysterious germination process taking place under the ground.

It is foolish to speculate about Neolithic beliefs, but it seems to me that the burial of a whole body, rather than cremation is an act of enriching the earth and of binding a soul to a particular place.

The concept of a preserved body acting as a source for an astral body that is free to return to the stars is maintained in Taoist beliefs, this makes the ancient Egyptian view a type of belief; it is not unique. Corpses inspire fear, hence the need for complex burial or preservation rituals and to place the remains within the protection of a sacred space. A corpse that has neither been cremated or subject to complex embalming processes is a different kind of corpse. There is fear that the body will be possessed by a spirit, reanimate and become a zombie or that the corpse under ground acts through the soil, that the ground above the body becomes 'hungry grass'.

What did the burial of that young man at Woodenge mean?

Did it mean that the whole ditch (his place of sacrifice?)  was now dangerous?

So hats off to Professor Vince Gaffney, though of course it wont stop people digging things up!

The final stage of geomatics is to produce a virtual map so that a visitor, sitting at a computer can 'walk' through a reconstruction of the archaeological site.