With such importance placed on rituals and disposal of the body, we think we have taken care of the body and given it a final resting place. But what if someone was to come along and dig it up? We would be outraged, demanding the return of the body and punishment for the perpetrator right?
Saxon Burial (Photo from Wessex Archaeology http://www.flickr.com/photos/wessexarchaeology/8469631615/sizes/m/in/photostream/)
Well, this is exactly what archaeologists do when they encounter ancient burials. They methodically remove the contents of the grave (including the body) and scientifically examine the remains. An Anglo-Saxon sarcophagus, for instance, has just been opened for examination:
Is this ethical? Usually, no one makes a fuss when it’s a pagan burial, such as one from Druid culture or ancient Greek culture, but what if it was a Christian burial? Archaeologists will excavate relatively recent remains (in their viewpoint) from only a couple centuries ago. A field school in Italy explicitly excavates in a churchyard cemetery:
How recent is too recent though? When a body must be exhumed nowadays, it is very traumatic for the family and many people say that it is disrespectful to the deceased person. Is excavating a grave the same thing? Is it okay since there is no living family or community connected with corpse? An article from the Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/1056932) discusses how ethics come into play in burial archaeology. When dealing with human remains, archaeologist must be respectful of how the cultures would want their remains to be handled and they often come into conflict with native people (such as the conflict with Native American tribes as mentioned in the article).
We must weigh the benefits against the damage that burial archaeology entails. I think that what we learn by excavating these graves outweighs the damage that excavation causes. We learn about the culture of the deceased person as well as general trends of how humans deal with death. Just like exhuming a body for forensic analysis in a criminal case will be worth the emotional pain for the valuable evidence it provides.
Honor killings have been defined as the homicide of a family member, typically a woman, due to the belief that the victim has brought dishonor or shame to the family. This dishonor is usually brought upon the family due to rumors involving the woman having an affair or a relationship with a man, who does not meet the family standards. These honor killings are predominant in regions of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Often, these honor killings go unreported and never reach the public eye.
In a recent article in The Jerusalem Report, a young woman was a victim of an honor killing, due to rumors that she was having a relationship with a Muslim man, something her Christian family did not deem appropriate. Due to these accusations, the woman was stabbed and killed by her cousin’s brother. The victim’s cousin, Sarah, reflects on the moment she figured out what had happened to her cousin and discusses the constant outbreaks of honor killings throughout Egypt that made her want to come out and tell her story. The link to the article can be found here:
Death is always viewed as a solemn event in any culture; however, it is more tragic to hear that a family member would kill their own. What is even more shocking is when the death is the result of a mere rumor. It makes you question how far people are willing to go in the name of honor and how people in these societies belittle the value of a human life, or more specifically, the value of a woman’s life. This article brings up the debate of when a cultural practice or ritual is no longer ethical and if it should still be tolerated. Would it be considered ethnocentric for Westerners to say that these killings are inhumane and should be stopped, or do the men in these cultures have the right to kill members of their family in the name of honor because it’s simply the way their society works?