Nearly 70 years ago, Fort William Henry, the fort overcome in 1757 battle portrayed in the film (and novel) “The Last of the Mohicans,” was reconstructed on the banks of Lake George in New York.
There, French forces led by General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm defeated the British, who were then, in many cases, slaughtered by the Indian tribe allies of the French as they attempted to retreat. Whether Magwa really ripped out the heart of the British commander, I do not know.
But I digress. Over the decades, the remains of many British combatants have been discovered in and around the site of the fort. Some of the remains have never been reburied, and were displayed for decades. Eventually the bones were studied by anthropologists, and yielded many details about colonial life in the era of the French and Indian War.
260 years after the fall of Fort William Henry, some of the bones are still at Arizona State University, where they are available for research. Other bone fragments unearthed by anthropologists in the 1990s and sent for study at the University of Waterloo in Canada were returned to the fort eight years ago, and lie in a box in a storage area. The company that owns the fort, known as the Fort William Henry Museum, says the bone fragments are being properly cared for, and that it is trying to balance the value of scientific research with respect for the remains of the dead.
“Most researchers would prefer, if ours were the only opinions that mattered, that the skeletons never be reburied,” one researcher told the New York Times. “The reason that we would prefer the remains not be reburied is not to accumulate them, but because science does not stop progressing despite the best efforts of some politicians.”
Others argue that the remains ought to get a a decent burial after all this time has passed. “How much information you gain should not outweigh the wishes of people asking to bury the remains,” said Sharon DeWitte, a member of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. “We should be treating these bodies with respect.”
Interestingly, while there are laws in place that require eventual burial of Native American remains, no such laws govern the equivalent skeletons of other races when they are unidentified and used for anthropological study.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Should the skeletons be buried if they still have research value?
And if so, why?
Two notes, without revealing my thoughts on the matter. The Times article makes a point of noting that the box in which the fort’s skeletons are currently residing is a “Staples” box. This is a classic example of how reporters signal their biases and manipulate reader emotions. Is there any reason why a Staples box is more disrespectful than any other kind of container?
I was also fascinated by the researcher’s jibe at politicians: “Science does not stop progressing despite the best efforts of some politicians.” I assume that’s a jab at climate change skeptics, but if, as the researcher admits, science keeps progressing, does that not support the skeptics’ argument that what is called “consensus” and “scientific fact” is not as certain as it is being represented by the climate alarmists?