Prehistoric Hominin Remains Sent to the Edge of Space: A Controversial Debate
Researchers are labeling the Virgin Galactic mission that transported the remains of Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi to the edge of space as a significant violation of ethical standards.
In a recent development that has sparked a heated debate within the paleo-anthropological and archaeological community, the remains of ancient hopminins were sent to the edge of space on a suborbital flight. While this event has captured public attention, it has left us all deeply concerned and divided over the ethics and implications of such an act. This blog post delves into the heart of the matter, examining the perspectives from both sides of the debate and the broader questions it raises about the treatment of ancient human remains.
The Virgin Galactic flight1 on September 8th carried partial remains of two ancient human relatives, Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi, on a journey to the edge of space. These fossils, transported in a cigar-shaped container by South African-born billionaire Timothy Nash, took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The selection of these fossils was made by Lee Berger, an explorer in residence for the National Geographic Society and director of the Centre for the Exploration of the Deep Human Journey at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
A fragment of a 2-million-year-old A. sediba collarbone, initially discovered by Berger's son Matthew in 2008, and a thumb bone from H. naledi, a still-mysterious hominin dating back 300,000 years, found in the Rising Star cave in 2013 by a team of researchers known as the "Underground Astronauts," were chosen for this extraordinary journey.
Although Lee Berger did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication, he emphasized in a statement that this voyage signifies humanity's recognition of the contributions of all ancestors and ancient relatives. Matthew Berger speculated that these hominins, during their lifetime, could never have envisioned embarking on such an incredible journey, serving as ambassadors for all of humankind's ancestors.
The controversy centers on a private company's decision to send the fossils of Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi on a suborbital journey to the edge of Earth's atmosphere. The act itself is without a doubt a publicity stunt. It offers nothing to the community and risks loss of critically important remains. It has drawn strong reactions from the archaeological community.
Many paleoanthropologists and archaeologists have expressed their dismay and outrage at this event. They argue that the decision to send human remains into space raises significant ethical concerns. Some of their key points of contention include:
One of the primary concerns is the lack of respect for the deceased individuals whose remains were involved. Archaeologists emphasize the need for dignified treatment of ancient human remains, given their prehistoric and cultural significance.
Critics also argue that this event commercializes anthroppology and archaeology and exploits human history for profit. They believe that the use of ancient remains in such a manner trivializes the discipline and turns it into a form of entertainment.
Another issue raised is the absence of ethical oversight in allowing a private company to conduct such a flight with human remains. Scientists advocate for stricter regulations to ensure the responsible handling of ancient remains.
On the other side of the debate, some argue that this event may have educational and outreach value. They contend that it could inspire interest in archaeology and space exploration, potentially bringing these fields to a wider audience. Additionally, proponents suggest that the intention behind the flight was not to disrespect the deceased but to celebrate human history and achievements.
Beyond the immediate controversy, this event prompts broader questions about the treatment of ancient human remains. It highlights the ongoing challenges faced by archaeologists in balancing the preservation of cultural heritage with scientific inquiry, public engagement, and ethical considerations.
The debate surrounding the recent suborbital flight of ancient human relative remains to the edge of space serves as a stark reminder of the complex issues that anthropologists archaeologists grapple with. While some argue for the potential benefits of such events, others emphasize the need for greater respect, ethical oversight, and responsible handling of ancient human remains. As anthropology and archaeology continues to evolve, discussions like these are essential to shape the future of the discipline and ensure that the lessons of the past are preserved with dignity and integrity.
I am opening up this post for you all to discuss the pro’s and con’s of this event. What do you think of it?
Virgin galactic completes fourth successful spaceflight in four months. (n.d.). Virgingalactic.com. Retrieved September 13, 2023, from https://press.virgingalactic.com/virgin-galactic-completes-fourth-successful-spaceflight-in-four-months