By Bernie Bell
Reading of what might have been the fate of the bones of those who fought and died – on both sides – at Waterloo https://theorkneynews.scot/2022/06/20/the-aftermath-of-waterloo/ reminded me of another instance of lack of respect for the bones of the dead.
We used to live in Gloucestershire, just outside Stroud, and nearby on the escarpments are a range of ancient sites. http://www.visitthecotswolds.org.uk/things-to-see-and-do/history-of-the-area/history/ancient-sites/ including Hetty Peglar’s Tump. Or, as someone from Yorkshire that I know called it ‘Ecky Thump’s Dump. Does anyone remember The Goodies and the Lancashire Martial Art of ‘Ecky Thump? https://www.facebook.com/networkdistributing/videos/ecky-thump/466257020537158/
Hetty Peglar’s Tump is a Neolithic Cairn. We were told that the land on which it stands was owned in the 17th Century by a Mr. Pegler, who named it after his wife. On entering the cairn, he found heaps of human bones. He had them taken out, ground up and used as fertilizer on his land. In a way, a strange thought that possibly the bones of the ancestors of some of the folk living around there at the time, were ground up and used to fertilize the land which might then have produced their food.
As previously mentioned in this piece…. https://theorkneynews.scot/2018/04/28/on-being-more-than-the-sum-of-our-parts/ , it looks like the ancient peoples here in Orkney and in other places and cultures were quite happy to have the bodies of their people taken to pieces and even, maybe, some bits lost or eaten by animals and birds. Once the ‘person’ has gone it was fine for the bones to be separated.
Picking over the bones is fine when the people themselves weren’t bothered about them much anyway. It looks like once the proper ceremonies were accomplished they shifted the bones about quite happily.
If other people then come upon them later in time and as part of a different culture, maybe it’s fitting for them to follow the values of their own time and show some respect – as archaeologists do today. There is more consideration given to the people of the past, as people, than there used to be.
What may have happened at the site of the Battle of Waterloo is a very different matter to the practices of the Neolithic. The people in that battle were probably mostly from societies which placed some importance on respectful treatment of the ‘remains’ of a person.
I wonder – is it that war de-humanizes, and so the usual attitudes to people and their remains, is lost? There are many, many reports of people scavenging – picking over the bodies on battlefields to steal anything worth having. Human vultures. Did this attitude extend to the possible mass graves of Waterloo? Though by the time they were in graves, the fact of them having been buried should have placed some kind of taboo on them being mis-treated.
I’m also reminded of when people are put ‘outside the pale’ and they, and their remains, are seen as fair game… https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/10/04/when-people-put-people-outside-the-pale-outside-society/
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. In any and every situation. Priti Patel take note.