Posh resurrection men

Charles Cowling


Posted by Charles


The remains of horses and wooden chariots have been unearthed from a Zhou Dynasty tomb in Luoyang, Henan Province, China that dates back almost 3,000-years.

The completed excavation unearthed four horse-and-chariot pits, dating back to as far as 770BC, and the pits have well-preserved evidence of bronze ware and ceramics from the Early Western Zhou dynasty.

Whole article here.

Is it extraordinary in these times that, in the name of archaeology, it’s reckoned perfectly okay to dig up long-dead people interred with all due solemnity according to sacred rites, etc, along with their bits and bobs? Are archaeologists any more than grave robbers with A levels?

3 thoughts on “Posh resurrection men

  1. Charles Cowling

    Only recently, some Roman human remains were removed from a field near where I live, so that new houses could be built. I occurred to me at the time what a terrible breach of trust this is with those people – that their rites and rituals would be shown such disrespect, to be cleared away for strangers’ necessities. In the next breath it occurred to me that we also need new houses, and if we dig anywhere at all we are almost certain to disturb something sacred or historically important to our ancestors.

    Vale, that is the one thing of which we can be certain – nothing persists, everything changes. It just seems that we have to decide very carefully how that process is managed. And there will always be those who care about that and those who don’t. Only yesterday, at a very full crematorium, I saw cars actually parked on graves (from the 20th century), something I’ve never seen before, and which made me very cross indeed – utter self-absorption! And the time delay before we consider something irrelevant or incovenient seems to be getting shorter by the minute. Imagine coming to visit the grave of your beloved only to find engine oil dripping on their name.

    And what of the significance of those remains, especially in an increasingly secular age where a genuine belief in an afterlife dwindles and there seems to be a shift to stress the importannce of ‘memories’. Well, I’m not really convinced there is always a great comfort in dwelling on memories; remains still seem to have a hold on people, still retain a sense of the ‘sacred’, a nearness to the loved one.

    As a slight detour, there’s a quote from a Thornton Wilder book which I like. Truthful words, but which are nonetheless difficult to include in funerals – the notion of being loved and then forgotten isn’t perhaps what most people want to hear at that particular moment. Here it is anyway:

    ‘But soon we shall die and all memory of those we have loved will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

    ‘from The Bridge of San Luis Rey’

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling

    I draw a different lesson. If history teaches us anything it is that nothing persists. When the culture that created these tombs disappeared so did their significance and what remains is merely loot of one sort or another.

    Besides, (and this has just struck me) if artefacts, food, animals even servants are entombed together to make provision for the afterlife how long do they have to stay undisturbed to be efficaceous? Did people believe that the afterlife was centred in the tomb? Or that, when the horses throat was slit and the tomb sealed, rider and horse galloped of into eternity together?

    If the latter, who cares what happens to the remains?

    This suddenly feels like one of those mad 3 o’clock in the morning conversations…

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    If, as appears to be the case here and elsewhere, we consider evidence of ancient religious rites and cultural practices undeserving of our respect and reverence, there seems to be a belief that none of it matters now, and it’s all freely available for us to ransack because it has passed its use-by date. Or possibly because we can’t control our curiosity and there’s no-one with the power to object? Or perhaps we think these antiquated and rather quaint procedures are irrelevant in our more enlightened society, so it’s okay to dig up these artefacts and put them in a museum for our entertainment? Or perhaps it’s all just ignorant superstition to our educated modern brains?

    Who knows; but what does this arrogant ‘who gives a stuff about that old shit anyway?’ attitude say about our true feelings concerning our own religious and cultural practices? Do we feel magnanimous enough to future generations (whose sophistication, we must allow, will license them to view our own beliefs and rites with comparable contempt) to invite them to dig up Mother once we’ve finished with her? Are our solemnities, at heart, as trivial and ephemeral to us as those of our ancestors?

    Maybe we’re just too self-absorbed to notice this self-evident anomaly. But if that’s how we really feel about our own observances – traipsing to the crematorium for the obligatory gathering, or invoking a superior power in a cathedral, or anything between – why do we make so much fuss about them? Why not, as so many blokes suggest with what we dismiss as bravado, put our stiffs in a bin bag and chuck them in a skip? Then future archaeologists would be demoted to bin-divers with A-levels, but at least they wouldn’t be offending any of their contemporaries’ sensibilities, as these tomb rapists are.

    Charles Cowling

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