Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is HAD?

Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD) is a British initiative that advocates respect for what are commonly called ‘human remains’ and their related funereal artefacts.HAD’s particular focus is the physical evidence of ancestors who don’t fall within either the protective legislation of the Human Tissue Act (2004), being those less than 100 years old, or the Guidance for Best Practice for Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England (2005).

2. Who does HAD represent?

HAD does not represent any particular religious, spiritual, theological, philosophical or local community, group or culture.  Instead, HAD offers a specific perspective.  It aims to explain that perspective, and to support those who agree with it.

3. What does HAD mean by ‘respect’?

Many who work with ancestors (‘human remains’) state that they do so with respect.  However, what respect mean in terms of practical action closely reflects underlying beliefs and values.  HAD’s understanding of respect is outlined in our Definitions document.

4. Is HAD a charity?

Yes.  HAD is registered with HMRC as a charitable company.  As such, it has a board of trustees, is run according to its constitution and can reclaim tax as Gift Aid from all donations given by UK taxpayers.  To support HAD, visit our Donate page.

5. Who works for HAD?

HAD is run by a collection of volunteers, some of whom work on local projects and some of whom focus on developing and disseminating the core initiatives, policies and web presence.

6. When was HAD founded and why?

HAD was founded in 2004 in response to the Stonehenge public enquiry which, at the time, was addressing the potential of moving the A303 and adjoining roads, which could have unearthed ancestors.

7. Why does HAD use the term ‘ancestors’ not ‘human remains’?

For some, the term ‘human remains’ has negative connotations, implying that the physical body has little or no value once the mind is no longer evident on the death of the brain and nervous system (materialism) or once the spirit has departed (dualism).  HAD recognises alternative perspectives, both metaphysically where there is no distinction between mind and matter, or simply where care shown to the physical body reflects the appreciation of the individual person.  Ancestors continue as valued members of our community, their influence acknowledged and appreciated; ‘human remains’ are no more than ash or bones.

8. Is HAD a Druid or Pagan organization?

In 2004, HAD began as an organization which aimed to represent a Druid perspective.  Over the following few years, this was broadened to include other Pagan traditions.  However, soon it became clear that there are many Druids and Pagans with views that differed from HAD, and equally a large number of people who would not describe themselves as Druid or Pagan who shared HAD’s perspective.  HAD is, therefore, no longer a Druid or Pagan organization.

9. Does HAD call for mandatory reburial of ancestors?

No.  While HAD’s perspective supports reburial in almost every case, HAD recognises that decisions should be made by all interested parties.  This means that museums, scientific or archaeological groups have no more or less right to make decisions about exhuming and exhumed ancestors than other groups for whom the ancestors are important, whether for spiritual, religious, social, cultural, or other reasons.  Consultation and shared decision-making is the only equable process.  See HAD’s consultation polity.

10. Does HAD recognise any value of displaying ancestors?

While there can certainly be much to gain in terms of retaining memories about ancestors, keeping ancestors in the heart of a community, learning about ancestral lives and life-styles, which can be offered from displays about ancestors exhumed locally, HAD does not believe it is ever acceptable to display ancestors themselves.  There are other ways of displaying information, and where the ancestral physicality is key to a display, there is replica technology available.  See HAD’s Guidance for the Display of Human Remains in Museums.

11. What is meant by repatriation in HAD, and does HAD call for mandatory repatriation?

When considering repatriation, HAD would include within the meaning of the word repatriation overseas and also within Britain.  For example, where a person had been exhumed in one part of the country but kept in a museum collection elsewhere, repatriation to the site of burial would be considered.  When someone has been exhumed in one location, but was known to be a native of another location, repatriation would need to be discussed by all interested parties.  Consultation, discussion and shared decision-making is once again the key.

12. Is it possible to create an appropriate burial rite for ancestors?

It is not possible to recreate what an ancestor him or herself was given in terms of funereal ritual: in most cases we have little or no idea what that may have been.  However, it is possible to rebury an ancestor with care and sensitivity, while recognising the limitations of our knowledge.  See HAD’s Committal Rite for the Reburial of Ancestors.