King Arthur Pendragon (formerly known as John Timothy Rothwell) lost his battle at the High Court today to prevent Sheffield University researchers conducting further research on the cremated remains of at least 40 individuals that were discovered at Stonehenge in 2008. Signing himself into the court register as “Arthur Rex” King Arthur (57) who changed his name by deed pole in 1986 told the judge that the bones were remains of members of the “royal line” or “priest caste” who could have been the “founding fathers of this great nation.” However Mr Justice Wyn Williams refused permission to launch a judicial review action, ruling that there was insufficient grounds that the investigators had acted unreasonably.
I have often wondered how these decisions are arrived at. We know in recent years that museums have had to return the remains of a number of indigenous peoples whose modern day ancestors have requested them back for burial. But what is considered reasonable? Some relics are hundreds of years old. So it can’t be simply time. What happens when national boundaries shift? What does it mean to be British? Many of these issues of origins are steeped in psychological notions of identity which are more to do with narratives, rather than well defined categories and yet people expend a lot of effort and grief over chunks of matter.