Druids are planning to protest at the opening of the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre following a heated debate about the display of human remains
A passionate neo-druid is organising a protest at Stonehenge this week, accusing English Heritage of “betrayal” over a decision to display ancient human remains in the much-anticipated new visitor centre at the Wiltshire site.
© National Museum Wales
Arthur Pendragon, the self-declared reincarnation of King Arthur who has persistently led campaigns challenging English Heritage’s plans surrounding the remains, says the Day of Action – timed to coincide with the public opening of the centre – will be the “first of many” demonstrations by the Loyal Arthurian Warband group he leads.
“The pieces are now set in place and the battle is set to commence,” wrote the former biker on his website, conceding that his fervency had caused “much of the druid fraternity” to fall out with him.
“I have always believed in speaking out against injustice and in standing up for one’s heartfelt beliefs and bringing it to the public’s attention. I will continue to do so with or without the support and assistance of those who believe otherwise.
“English Heretics have had every opportunity to avoid this confrontation and seem hell-bent on playing it out.
“Even at this 11th hour, if [they] were to place photographs or replicas in their new visitors centre, instead of flying in the face of public opinion and wishing to display the Human remains excavated from what to many is a sacred burial ground, I would cancel the demonstration and return to the negotiating table.
“But they have made it abundantly clear to us and the world press that they shall not.”
Announcing the Klasp the Moon protest, Pendragon said the centre would create “trophy cabinets” in the style of a “Victorian peep show”.
“When we win - for I am certain in the fullness of time we shall be victorious - it will be chronicled who stood with and who against the Ancestors,” he predicted.
A poll in the Western Daily Press ended in a 93% vote against ancestral bones being displayed at Stonehenge. But Will Rathouse, who is currently writing a thesis on the relationship between pagans, archaeologists and the heritage industry at the University of Wales, said the issue was “nuanced”.
“There will be protests from some pagans and druids, notably King Arthur Pendragon, about this,” he told the Press.
“He has launched a public campaign against this, both in the courts and with protests. He's trying hard to build support and force the issue.
“The legal avenues might now be exhausted, but he and his followers are still trying to pressure English Heritage into agreeing not to display the bones and returning them for burial.
“I find that when I see a skeleton, this visual connection of seeing the bones of the ancestors helps to strengthen the spiritual connection. It demystifies death, and having a genuine human skeleton allows children to see primae facie evidence of death, of life and of the people who built, used, lived or died at Stonehenge.
“King Arthur Pendragon and his followers say that displaying the bones in public offends common decency, as if there were some sort of universal standards of decency. He often compares the treatment of ancient bones found in Wiltshire with arguments over the fate of the remains of American Indian ancestors and Australian aboriginal ancestors.
“This view is based on a political discourse where those bones have been taken, used and displayed by white immigrant communities, and the argument of those aboriginal peoples is one based around regaining control. It's highly problematical to assert or transpose this onto pre-historic Britain and present day society in Britain.
“My view is that if you don't like seeing bones on display, don't go and see them.”
Pendragon called Rathouse a “friendly neighbourhood archaeologist in a white frock”, and said organising Pagans was “like herding cats.”
Responding in a statement, English Heritage acknowledged the potential for dispute.
“We respect their views and their right to peaceful demonstration, and have had useful discussions with them about how these protests can be accommodated,” the group said of the protestors.
“English Heritage believes that authenticity is important to tell England's story. We use real objects and artefacts because we believe they are the best way for people to come close to history.
“We only use replicas when the real item is not available. Research shows that the vast majority of museum visitors are comfortable with, and often expect to see, human remains as part of displays.
“English Heritage Commissioners considered Mr Arthur Pendragon's request to use replicas very carefully in September 2013 but decided that the original plan should go ahead.”
The statement added that the centre’s curatorial approach was consistent with national museum practice and would follow government guidelines. Two of the sets have been dated to more than 5,000 years ago, with a third thought to be around 4,500 years old.
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