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R"f .P"
R"f
.P"
A conundrumfor ArchaeotogÍsts
andthe pubtic
by W.L.Roth,¡'e
est in Peace- isnt that what most of us wish for
at the end of the road?
At
archaeologist,
I
have
disturbedthe restof a few long-deceased
T
individuals' Such activitieshavealwaysbeenpart
of rny profession,but üe exhu-
mation of mortal remains, and their analysisand
public display, raisesserious
questions for archaeorogistsand the pubric
to ponder.
.result of such ponderings by
Native,A.merica¡rs.archaeologisa, and
others is the Nadve American Graves
Protection and Repatriation Act.
Under the law, passed by Congress
nearly a decade ago, ürtually all docr
mented Naüve Ame¡ican burials ex*
vated in the U.S. and stored in muse.
uns are being retumed to their own
peoples for reburial.
But what of the remairs of non_
Naüve Americarrs?Many of them find
neither rest nor peace.
ResUngin peace is not a unive¡sal cuF
tural vahre. Many peoples, especíally in
Oceania, use pieces of dead relatives as.
body decoration or as relics in ancestor
cults. Cultural anthopologist Bronislaw
Malinowski once published a photo of a
Tiobriand ]slancl woman rvearing the
mandible of her deceased husband as
part of a necklace. But most Europears
and Alnericansdo not retishthe thought
or postmortem meanderings.
Perhaps the most famous on-theroacl crypt tale of recent tintes involves
Argentinas Eva Perón, who was
immortalized in the Broadway musical
and film Er,t¡a.As author Edwin Mur_
phy wrote, 'In Argentina, political
colpses are political capital.' The day
afte¡ she died, on Juty 20, 1g52. Evita
went on public r.,iew for a fortnight at
the Ministry of [^abor, where two mil_
lion moumers filed past her glass_
toppecl coflin. Husband Juan perón,
president of fugentina, plannecl to
exhibit her body inside a ükenesslarg_
er than the Statue ofLiberry.
But Juan was overthrorvn by u .oup
in 1955, and the nerv president, Gen_
eral Pedro Eugenio ,Aramburu, found
Evita still in the Ministry, where Dr.
Pedro A¡a had spent ntore than a Vear
injecting chemicals, bathing the úod,v
in acelate and potassium nitrate, and
applying coats of plasüc. The result
rvas so impressive that ,A¡arnbu¡u cut
off a fnger to deterrnine whether Ev-ita
had even been a living t¡unnn.
Then cane fwo years of corpse car_
ancl-nlouse in Buenos Aires as A¡arn_
buru tried to keep the cadaver frc¡n¡
Evita's supporters (his enenies). In
1957,as part ofan elaborareruse.sev,_
eral coffins lvefe sent to d.genüne
embassiesar.ounclthe r,vorld. The one
holcling Evita was buried under
another name in a centetery in lVfihn,
Italy. In 1970, A¡amburu was kid_
napped and executed. The kidnappers
held his body for ransom: specifically,
the corpse of Evita. Sh" *r, ,oon
retumed to Perón at his exile estate in
Madrid. EyervitnessessayJuan and his
third wife, Isabel, put Evita on disolav
in their dining room.
Perón retumed to po,,verin,A¡eentina
in 1973,brrt left Evira in Spain.\\hen he
died the following yۇr, the guerillas
who had origirnlly killed Aramburu,
rekidnapped his corpse, offering t.o
exchange it for their female idol. In
1976, Eüta came tstle to a bomb. and
hqglarproof steel va:lt 20 feet below
her fanrilyl rnarsoleum in Bue_nosAires'
fashiornble RecrrletaCemererv.
Juan Perón ur¿s br¡ried li a crypt
with
round-the-clock
guards.
Nonetheless, his ceremonial sword and
both his hands were stolen i¡r l gg7. Ah.
life in the fast lane of the deacl.
But it is notjr¡st the rich and fa¡now
who dont rest in peace. A dramatic
element of Mary Sheltey's lglg novel
frankerrfeinlvas the üeft of bodies from
cemeteries. This was not a figment of
r\4s. Shelteys imagination.
In the late-eighteenth-century,
newl-'l' established medical s.hoois
faced a shortage of bodies lbr medical
dissection ;ind research. Thev solvecl
the strortage by payng for cadave¡s.
led to grave robbing.
Jvhj*¡romnttV
In 1788, after children peered into the
of üe Hospital of the City of
):,.r"p
New York and saw fresh corpses under
the scalpel, one of thei¡ parents dis_
covered that his wife's grave had been
emptied. A mob of 5.000 stonnect
the
hospital. A three.da¡r riot was dis_
persed only when police fired muskets
inro tlte crowd. A l7g9 hw in Nerv
York and sirnjlar laws in Errrope
allowed docto¡s to obtain the bodies
of executed oiminals. But even that
was not enough- The peace
of the
grave was far frorn secure.
In the 1970s,two books Jessica
Mitfor¿'s Tl¡e Amer¡canWay of Dath
(recently republished) ancl Marearer
Harmeri The High C*t of Oyng _
concluded that cremaüon was the
best rvay to give the dead their serene
due. But even this dignified solution
Gra¡e robbers heeze in panic when
a
corpse cornes ali\re ¡n the 1943 movie,
Frartc''6ei' Me6's tl1r'lllhtfman, st arritg
Lon Chaneylr.r the corpse.
foolproof. In June lgg7, AUen
]11
Meir¿, a pilot lvho macle a liüng
b¡r
promising that he would spread
the
-cremains'
of clients over the Califor_
nia coast, killed himself. police found
2,000 boxes of cremains, some leak_
ing ashes" in a warehouse used
by
Meira. At his airpot hangaq investi_
gators found tlre ashes of another
1,500 people. Beside V¡eira's Uoa;l,,
lvas a note that said he was sorn.
The modem idea of cemeteies is
botnd up lüth the concept of "perpet_
ual care-"hrt to an archaeologist. per_
petual'b a verl'long time and guaran_
teeing anything bevond 50
-vearsseems
iffy at best, especially when burial
remairrsstand in üe r¡¡av of proqr.ess.
Consider tfre Wasni.,gron park
I
Cemetery in St. Louis, the semifinal
resting place for the rnoftal remains
of sonre 25,000 African-Americans
going back to the 1920s.Interstate70
rolled through the center of the
cemetery i¡r the rnid-'S0s, then rhe
owner went bankrupt, and the cemetery fell into disrepair. \lVhen Metro
Link, a $350 nrilhon light-rail svstem.
\ ranted to hook up with the Lambert
St. Louis Intemational Airport in
1993, guess what stood in its oaü.
The City of St. Louis provicled iunds
for new cemetery plots and even grief
counselors. but onl¡z 40 percent of
the interred rvere claimed. About
2,500 remains from the graveyard's
north side were reiocated, but on the
south side of the cemeterv, still pri_
vately owned, the bones molder
under the rveeds.
This is a typical fate of oldel gr aveyards in the United States. Indiana is
a prirne example. "All over the state,"
wlote Associated Press writer. Ted
Anthony, "üny pioneer grave¡rards sit
in üe path of the very progress so
coveted by the people who rest in
them." Betrveen 1900 and lgg2. Indiana lost 28 perceni of its farmland.
and that usuail¡r meant discarding,
reinterring, or just paving over the
land's permanent residents.
Ther'e is an altemative. At the Avondale Mall in Decatur., Georgia, for
example, a small building in the parking lot protects tiny Cror,vley Cemetery. But how manlz' oüer pioneer
graveyards have simply been bulldozed into oblMon?
Graves that are not threatened by
progress nay fall prey to monelr Los
Angeles' Holiywood MentoriaL Park
Cemetery is home to the rernnantsof
80,000 depaned souts, including 400
celebrities the likes of Rudoloh
Valentino, Jal'ne Mansfield, Cecil B.
DeMille, and Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs
Bunny and Elmer Fudd), whose epi'THAI'S
taph leads,
ALL FOLKS."
AfterArgenüna'sbetovedEvaperonctied
in 1*52,her body was paced on publ¡c
displayin a glasscomnfor t\ ro weds.
Tl ro m¡lt¡onmournersf¡ledpasr.
In 1996. the owners of the therrrur
down resting place defaulted ona$.2.7
million loan. A bank took over arri
tried to sell the grave-vard. and the
morfal remains rvitlfn it, as a poteniial
tourist atracdon. No one even made
the minimum bid of $500,000.
Where is an a¡chaeoloAist when
you need one? D
WL Ra*r¡e.a SeniorEdirorof ,tirynft Amizn
UivtwirE fudloed,og,r. is di¡mtor of üe Cartraee
Pmject {d rac¡6
arthe Univesitv of Ar¿d;.
iiliil#li:ifr.:r.!::i:r',
iil.*f
Afts ütcFucral: Thc Postl¡mousAdv¿ltu¡c ol
Famou Corpsc\ Edwn Murphy. Citadel pres,
i 995.
Thc Politial Li¡'a of Dcad Bodjs Rcburial ud post_
wialitt Ch¿ngc,Katherine Verdery. Columbta
Univeruity Press. lggg.
Livit\g with thcDúd in rhcMiddlc AeB. patrick
J_
Geary. Cornell Univesity Press. 19g5.

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