UK

King Arthur Pendragon, Druid Leader, Objects To Display Of Human Remains At Stonehenge

08/05/2013 14:53 BST | Updated 10/05/2013 12:27 BST

A druid leader, who changed his name by deed poll to King Arthur Pendragon, has criticised Stonehenge for "macabre" plans to put real human remains on display.

King Arthur, who styles himself the Battle Chieftain of the Council of British Druid Orders and Titular Head and Chosen Chief of the Loyal Arthurian Warband Druid order, has sent a stern letter of criticism to English Heritage over the plans.

The cremated remains of more than 40 bodies, thought to be at least 5,000 years old, were removed from a burial site at the ancient stone circle five years ago.

king arthur pendragon druid

Druid King Arthur Pendragon conducts a ceremony at Priory Crescent, Southend

In 2011, King Arthur lost a High Court legal battle to have bones, which were discovered in 2008, returned to their original resting place at the popular Wiltshire attraction.

English Heritage said the remains were not from the 2008 excavation and their "presentation, treatment and storage" would follow strict UK guidelines.

But King Arthur maintains the bones were the remains of members of the "royal line" or "priest caste" who could have been the "founding fathers of this great nation".

In an open letter, he said: "It is with sadness and regret that I recently learned of English Heritages plans to put on display in 'their' new visitor centre at the World Heritage site of Stonehenge, ancient skeletal and cremated human remains excavated from the environs of the World Heritage site.

"This is not only out of step with the feelings of many of the peoples and groups that I represent who would rather the ancient dead were reburied and left to rest in peace and where appropriate samples kept for research and 'copies' put on display, but is surely against the driving cultural principles of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"English Heritage has missed an opportunity to be world leaders in this field but instead have opted to display the ancestral remains in such a macabre manner.

"We shall not take this development lightly and will oppose any such intention by English Heritage at Stonehenge."

The £27 million project to build a new visitor centre and close the road alongside the ancient monument, near Salisbury, is due to be completed by the end of the year.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said visitor research showed the "vast majority of museum visitors are comfortable with, and often expect to see, human remains".

"Stonehenge is the focus of a ceremonial and ritual landscape shaped by prehistoric people for over 1,500 years," she said.

"The exhibition in the new visitor centre will provide an introduction to the story of the monument and its landscape, and puts at its centre the people associated with it.

"The remains of three human burials found in the landscape will be displayed with ample explanation along with archaeological objects, providing visitors with a direct connection to the people who lived and worked there.

"As such, we believe they have a rightful place in the exhibition and their presentation, treatment and storage will follow strict guidelines set out by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

"Visitors will be made aware of the display before they enter the exhibition.

"Visitor research also shows that the vast majority of museum visitors are comfortable with, and often expect to see, human remains as part of displays.

"The three sets of human remains on display do not include any of those recently excavated by Professor Mike Parker Pearson from one of the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge.

"The reburial of this set of remains, a separate issue being championed by King Arthur Pendragon, is a decision that rests with the Ministry of Justice.

"More details about the new exhibition at the Stonehenge visitor centre, including information about three sets of remains and the individuals to whom they belong, will be unveiled at a later stage."