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The fine line between archaeology and grave-robbing

How many years have to pass until it’s okay to dig up someone’s remains and pick them apart?

Construction excavations in Rennes, France recently uncovered several forgotten grave sites beneath the town’s convent. Among the dead was the well-preserved corpse of the “Lady of Brefeillac,” who died 350 years ago. Her body’s remarkable condition is being hailed as a spectacular archaeological find.

Here’s my question: at what point does exhuming a body cross over from desecration to legit archaeology? How many years have to pass until it’s okay to dig up someone’s remains and pick them apart? Most of us would probably object if historians unearthed our grandparents. What about your great-grandparents? Or great-greats? Is 100 years the safe benchmark? 200? 

Or is fame the important metric? Many Americans would grumble if Ben Franklin’s body were exhumed. What about an anonymous farmer from the same era?


Speaking of desecration, am I the only one who thinks the late Lady of Brefeillac looks like she’s made of delicious fried chicken?