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Sunday, April 29, 2012

For Decency's Sake

I was in Gettysburg, once, at an antique shop. I'd been visiting the battlefield and now was enjoying some light shopping.  The owner asked me what I was looking for, and I told him "I'm trying to find an Ames light cavalry saber, 1863 model." That is my standard comment when I'm approached.  Of course he didn't have one (they aren't easy to find), but he said, "I can sell you a soldier..."

He had a box of bones. Someone, digging in his garden where there had been fighting in 1863, had discovered a burial. He dug the bones and accouterments up, put them in a box, and decided to try to sell them. I heard this, stared, and walked out. I wish I'd notified the Veteran's Administration. Everyone I've mentioned this to has been shocked that a body of a soldier should be so abused. Frankly, in my opinion, any body should be respectfully treated.

I am working on a story based on this experience,  In the story, the heroine buys the bones and contacts the Veteran's Administration.  The story follows her quest to discover who they belonged to, and what happened to him (other than being killed at Gettysburg).  It's a few years away from being finished, since I put it on the back burner,

I think  it's safe to say that anyone reading this blog knows that I am currently (and have been) writing some novels set in dynastic Egypt.  Late eighteenth to early nineteenth, to be precise.

Advances in imaging, medicine and DNA research have made it possible for us to learn a lot about the people of the Nile.  We are developing more information on that culture, and it is a good thing

However, we continue to do one thing that I find outrageous:

We put the corpses of their dead on exhibit.

If you read a book, say, on Tutankhamun, it will most likely contain photographs of his great-grandparents, Thuya and Yuya. It may also have a photo of his grandmother, the great queen Tiye. And it will almost certainly have a full face photograph of him.

So, what's wrong with that? Well, the fact that they are photographs of the mummies of those people. Bodies that were discovered and are now on display.

When the body of Ramesses II was taken to Paris to have some work done on it to stop its deterioration, it was accorded a twenty-one gun salute.  That is appropriate: he had been a head of state.  But if you go to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, you can gape at a room of mummies.  A search for images will bring up photos of them.

I wonder what people would say if a history of the English monarchy for the past two hundred years contained within it photographs of the exhumed bodies of the royal family. Or perhaps a history of the American Civil War could have photographs of the bodies of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, the various great generals of that time and, let's say, Clara Barton and Belle Boyd.

It sounds a little odd, doesn't it? Well, that's the problem I have with the display (all over the place) of mummies.

To me, this is just plain wrong.  Royal or not, these were human beings, not freaks, and putting them on display in this fashion is bad form. 

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