To salvage or not to salvage the moral dilemma

Bob Godfrey

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I think it's safe to say that the Pharaohs would have been most displeased at the prospect of being 'retrieved' along with their grave goods, or they wouldn't have ordered such complex and costly efforts to prevent such and Lara Croft would be unemployed. Our own efforts have screwed up their plans for a comfortable afterlife. Can we discount that on the grounds that all ancient peoples were heathens and didn't understand that their spiritual concepts were ill-founded and that (according to our own beliefs) they really have nothing to lose by being hauled out of their graves and placed on display. Does it (and should it) make a difference if a grave is marked with a cross?
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Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think it's safe to say that the Pharaohs would have been most displeased at the prospect of being 'retrieved' <<

Yeah, and back in those days, the penalty for robbing a royal tomb was death by impalement with the body left to rot. No mummification, no burial, no chance at an afterlife. That was as harsh as you could get.

>>Our own efforts have screwed up their plans for a comfortable afterlife.<<

In all fairness, the tomb robbers of 30 centuries ago beat us to the punch. Very few tombs have been found with the burials being even reletively unmolested. That was why the discovery of King Tut's tomb was so important. It gave us a snapshot of the ancient Egyptians and their culture which we wouldn't have otherwise.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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Yes, Mike, there are questions to be answered, but they are retrospective, albeit of great interest; they are unlikely (I think) to improve the safety of current or future sea travel, but that doesn't mean it's not worth the forensic effort. I was trying to bring the discussion back to the topic, unusually for me I admit given recent form, and question the basis on which we decide morality. Which often seems to me to be expediency, and I can certainly see gaping great holes in my own views.

If you think like I do, then you don't have a problem with archaeology for the purposes of learning which either illuminates the past or may inform the future; but you still might object to a Pharoah being put on display so that, according to the chief archaeologist in Cairo, people can smile at his young toothy face. The gentleman in question is on record as saying displaying King Tut is the best way of bringing him closer to his desire for eternal life ... but I think he wants tourism revenue ... although probably to fund future work. Personally, I think this is wrong, but where to draw the line?

I suppose one could argue that since King Tut's grave goods were found intact in the 20th Century, it's obvious he didn't actually need them, so it's OK for us to retrieve them, and I'd go along with that really. But I'd keep him in his sarcophagus away from the public gaze.

Perhaps the root of the moral dilemma in this thread for some people is whether or not the Titanic is actually a grave? And when does a grave cease to be a grave, which is rather what Bob was asking.
 

Bob Godfrey

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The point, Mike, is that it doesn't matter whether your motives are financial or educational or, as in the case of the 'resurrectionists' who kept medical schools supplied with fresh cadavers, a bit of both. When you plunder a grave for whatever reason you're going against the wishes of the deceased and of those who put him/her there in the first place. Some would say that the situation changes once we reach a point in time when nobody who personally remembers the deceased is still above ground. That's probably where I'd stand in this. In any case, if I visited King Tut's tomb I wouldn't consider that particular physical location to be worthy of reverence as his grave, because his remains aren't there any more. Likewise the Titanic. The dead are long departed, and it's nobody's final resting place. Should we have reverence for an auto wreck and consider it sacred because people died in it? Maybe while their remains are still inside, but once they've been removed, whether by the hand of man or the forces of nature, it's just scrap metal.
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Jeff Kelley

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“Should we have reverence for an auto wreck because people died in it? Maybe while their remains are still inside, but once they've been removed, whether by the hand of man or the forces of nature, it's just scrap metal.”￾

This is a compelling line of thought.

In some cases, sunken submarines are sealed shut and effectively turned into underwater tombs - those are more clearly delineated as gravesites. But sunken ships are a more difficult question. Sunken ships have been searched (and artifacts recovered) for centuries for archeological and financial reasons. I believe that it is the mystique of the Titanic that makes that particular ship more controversial.

Back to Bob’s question, though…

A sunken ship, like a car wreck, was not meant to be a final resting place, a gravesite, or a tomb. In the case of the Titanic, people died as the result of an accident. The analogy of the car wreck is a very good one. Once the bodies are removed the wreckage becomes scrap metal and is discarded or (hopefully) recycled. Also, consider the steel from the World Trade Center. Most of it was shipped to India and China for re-use. The car you drive today or the soup can you open tonight might contain metal from that building.

In the case of the Titanic, no one is pushing for recycling of the materials, and I would suggest that preservation in a museum of selected artifacts is an even more fitting fate than reincarnation as car parts and soup cans. And while the artifacts might in some cases have been owned by an individual, they were not there as part of a burial rite.

In any case, there are many good arguments on both sides of the salvaging issue, and I am confident that they will never be reconciled. People will have to agree to disagree. One other certainty…the Titanic will continue to deteriorate and will eventually collapse upon itself, destroying most if not all of what artifacts remain.
 

Paul Rogers

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"“Should we have reverence for an auto wreck because people died in it? Maybe while their remains are still inside, but once they've been removed, whether by the hand of man or the forces of nature, it's just scrap metal.”￾

Hmm. It's interesting to notice the (recent?) phenomenon of flowers/toys/etc. placed at the side of roads or tied on to lamp posts, where people have died in RTAs. There was a recent case where a local council wanted to clear away these markers, some months after the accident, which caused outrage amongst the relatives of the deceased. I admit I struggle to understand the motivation of the mourners in sanctifying the place of death as opposed to a grave, tomb or similar (or anything, actually).

I seem to recall that mini-shrines are dotted along roadsides in Greece; I'm not sure if for the same reason.

"In some cases, sunken submarines are sealed shut and effectively turned into underwater tombs - those are more clearly delineated as gravesites. But sunken ships are a more difficult question."

But why are they a more difficult question, Jeff? Is it because a submarine is inherently a sealed unit, like a coffin, whereas a ship is not? If so, why should this make a difference? Clive Cussler raised the Hunley after all: and that boat did have human remains inside. Most people didn't bat an eyelid at the time, as the Hunley was said to be of significant historical importance.

My view is that a dead body is just tissue and has no bearing on the existence (or not) of a soul. At least, I blooming well hope so: otherwise I'm tearing up my Organ Donor Card, just in case!

In terms of salvaging Titanic specifically, my views have changed dramatically over the last five years or so. I used to be vehemently anti-salvage; there are posts on this Board demonstrating this. Nowadays, I am pro-salvage as long as the salvage efforts themselves do not cause damage to the wreck that might impair future forensic investigations. An explanation of how my change of heart came about would be far too boring to post here!
 
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Don't hold back on our account, Mark. A man should make use of his God-given talents
Well, I thank you for the vote of confidence, Bob. I just never like to offend anyone. Of course, I have been here for some time, and many of you know me well enough to realize that I am not the belligerent sort of person. I may not hold back, but I try to be polite at all times.​
 
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This matters, as it means we might have to 'disrespect' past generations in order to benefit future ones. I don't have a problem with this as I think one must look only to future generations
Please don't get me wrong, Mon. 'disrespect' need not be synonymous with "handling the human body" in the physical sense. As said, performing examinations on human remains is not necessarily disrespectful, as the information obtained is important and necessary, such as in the case of a murder. Respect is determined (in my opinion) in HOW the human remains are handled.

As for the Egyptian tomb analogy, as can be see by reading the forum, that is quite a loaded example, and not always clearcut. Grave robbers, of course, behave disrespectfully regarding the dead. True, the dead no longer need their trinkets, but such items represent who the dead are in identity and time placement. We can learn from these, and THAT I think is where the difference lies when handling the dead in a respectful manner.​
 
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Can we discount that on the grounds that all ancient peoples were heathens and didn't understand that their spiritual concepts were ill-founded and that (according to our own beliefs) they really have nothing to lose by being hauled out of their graves and placed on display. Does it (and should it) make a difference if a grave is marked with a cross?
Just because one is an atheist or non-believer in the 'old ways' does not justify assuming that such behavior (sorry, "behaviour") toward the dead is acceptable. To say that their spiritual concepts were "ill-founded" is placing to much confidence in your own beliefs. They believed a certain way, and the first step to learning about past civilizations is by maintaining an open mind regarding them.

Bob, I am not saying that this is the case with you; I am just making a general statement.

That said, excavations can prove fruitful if such is the case for the purpose of learning. Such findings can help humanity now or even in future generations. This, in my opinion, is not a bad thing.

As both a deist and researcher, I suggest a balance, if one is possible.​
 
Jun 12, 2004
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When you plunder a grave for whatever reason you're going against the wishes of the deceased and of those who put him/her there in the first place. Some would say that the situation changes once we reach a point in time when nobody who personally remembers the deceased is still above ground. That's probably where I'd stand in this.
Bob, I guess I spoke too soon in my previous post, but I can see that you share some of the sentiment, at least regarding the acknowledgement of past beliefs. This is essential when dealing with past civilizations--an understanding as to who these people were.

This gets back to the overall conundrum, because the Catch-22 signifies that to learn more about these people, one would have to study them closely, and in order to do that . . . It seems to go around in circles. Can their ever be a solution to satisfy all sides?​
 
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it's nobody's final resting place.
Who is to say? This, as I alluded earlier, might be an individual consideration, but it is the difference in perspective that has created the conundrum, or at least carries it on.

This is the same type of situation as the issue of pre-born fetuses--are they people or aren't they?​
 
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But why are they a more difficult question, Jeff?
Because in most cases, these older subs serve as a permanent place of burial, unlike the roadside displays, which only serve to acknowledge the place of death, not the burial. These subs are quite often both.​
 

Paul Rogers

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"Because in most cases, these older subs serve as a permanent place of burial, unlike the roadside displays, which only serve to acknowledge the place of death, not the burial."

I was asking Jeff his opinion as to the difference between submarines and ships, Mark; not submarines and roadside displays. Hence why I quoted Jeff as follows:

""In some cases, sunken submarines are sealed shut and effectively turned into underwater tombs - those are more clearly delineated as gravesites. But sunken ships are a more difficult question."
 

Bill Willard

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In the terms of today's world, and today's views, it is the "final resting place" based on most cultures. Yet so was the Hunley, from down here in my home state.

Yet one effort is decried, and the other praised. One supported, the other rebuked. One team called "graverobbers" while the other "preservers of history". People go see the Tut exhibit, but condemn the Titanic artifact exhibit.

The world is a jumble of inconsistency. The world also contains polarized opinions on this issue, though I do not understand why. I have a difficult time viewing the perspective of anti-salvagers. Studying history has been too much of my academic world to just close the door on it. Even BEING at the site brings an exhilaration beyond words.

Respectfully,

Bill
 

Bob Godfrey

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"Bob, I guess I spoke too soon in my previous post*

Mark, perhaps if you'd read my own post in full before responding to it you wouldn't have been confused. I don't know, by the way, why you are thanking me for offering you a vote of confidence in this thread. I'm not aware of having done so.
 

Paul Rogers

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"This is the same type of situation as the issue of pre-born fetuses--are they people or aren't they?"

They are not people: they are foetuses. The clue is in the question! (Mind you, I actually have no idea as to what a pre-born foetus might be...)

Perhaps the issue might be better expressed as: does a foetus have the same rights in the womb as a baby would have once it has been born? But as we appear to be drifting off-topic again (it happens so easily!) perhaps it's best to leave this issue alone.
 
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Jeff Kelley

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I was only pointing out that sometimes submarines are sealed and considered tombs/gravesites, but I was not pretending to be able to explain or justify all the permeations. Unfortunately, I have not thought it through enough to offer any useful proposed guidelines.

The Hunley is, of course, an excellent contradiction to this occasional practice. The difference, however small, might be that the sealed subs/tombs were officially sealed by the government that those lost (and contained in the sub) were serving. It is a rather expedient and convenient way to recognize the victims and their resting place.

Although there are many exceptions, it seems to me that on most sunken ships very few bodies remain on board for various reasons. Subs are different, of course. Not different enough in the case of the Hunley, but I would have to sleep on that to see if I can explain in my own mind why that was not more controversial.
 
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PAUL:

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They are not people: they are foetuses. The clue is in the question!
Actually, what I meant was should they be considered as full-living human beings? Your "rights" translation was a good one, too. It was used as a comparative analogy.

The first is a loaded statement, Paul, as many people do refer to foetuses as people, just unborn people. By the way, the term "unborn people" is not a redundancy and is an actuality

quote:

(Mind you, I actually have no idea as to what a pre-born foetus might be...)
If one is born dead (usually prematurely), it is sometimes still called a foetus by some medical personnel, although I won't say I confirm it, only that I have heard as such. So pre-born or unborn foetus, is a distinction of one that hasn't yet been born. If this term is inappropriate, why is it used all the time?

And, yes, I agree with laying off the issue, but like any other, a touchy subject is bound to jump in every now and then. Mine was an off-the-cuff reference, that's all, and not meant to start a debate. I stop it here.

quote:

I was asking Jeff his opinion as to the difference between submarines and ships, Mark
Yes, I know that, Paul, but this is a public forum, and as such anyone can respond to anything posted. That's the nature of a public forum.

As for me, my comparison is my own, unrelated to anything you or Jeff might have said. Jeff made one point, and I made another.

Now, let's get back on track. We were talking salvage and how to treat places of the dead . . .



BILL:

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Studying history has been too much of my academic world to just close the door on it. Even BEING at the site brings an exhilaration beyond words.
As an academic myself I can appreciate this. I approach such experiences with a blend of awe and intrigue toward the unknown. Being both respectfully careful and curious at the same time allows me to weigh the significance of such things in more than one light at the same time.



BOB:

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Mark, perhaps if you'd read my own post in full before responding to it you wouldn't have been confused.
Wasn't confused, but I was in a hurry, which is why I spot-replied today instead of reading everything through first. Normally, I do just that.


quote:

I don't know, by the way, why you are thanking me for offering you a vote of confidence in this thread. I'm not aware of having done so.
The reference was to your encouragement for me to speak up without having to worry about offending anyone. I was merely acknowledging that.



JEFF:

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Although there are many exceptions, it seems to me that on most sunken ships very few bodies remain on board for various reasons.
This is where there are remains to recover so that they may be buried at another designated place, perhaps one selected by the family. In the case with Titanic, such shoes and boots are legitimate remains of a body, but one doesn't normally bury shoes or boots in a grave by themselves.

This is one of the important questions regarding Titanic salvage: Should shoes and boots be considered human remains, despite the fact that they are not actually part of what was once a living organism? They are, at least, an indicator of where a human once lay. Again, perhaps that consideration should be left to the perspective of the individual. Physically, they are shoes/boots, but on a human level . . .​
 

Paul Rogers

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"By the way, the term "unborn people" is not a redundancy and is an actuality"

Quite right. You, however, used the term: "pre-born fetuses", which is a redundancy.

"So pre-born or unborn foetus, is a distinction of one that hasn't yet been born. If this term is inappropriate, why is it used all the time?"

I refer the honourable gentleman to the dictionary definition of foetus. You'll note the use of the word: "unborn".

"As for me, my comparison is my own, unrelated to anything you or Jeff might have said. Jeff made one point, and I made another."

No, Mark, you didn't. You answered my question to Jeff incorrectly because you didn't read the post properly. I'm sure that, as someone with self-confessed high analytical intelligence, you will appreciate that.