ALTHOUGH a plan to impose a policy prohibiting the exposure of ancient remains in publications was shot down by local historians, researchers and archaeologists, the historic preservation officer who suggested the new policy now wants senators to create legislation to address the issue.
A proposed ban by Lynda Aguon, Guam State Historic Preservation officer of the Department of Parks and Recreation, on the exposure of ancient skeletal remains sparked an email-based debate last week.
Aguon now wants legislation to be introduced prohibiting the exposure of human skeletal remains in popular media outlets without the approval of a special governing body.
Although a law is already on the books regarding the transportation of skeletal remains, Aguon said a similar law should be in place regarding the exposure of ancestral remains.
“These remains need to be respected and not exposed,” said Aguon. “It’s fine for scholarly work but it shouldn’t be printed in popular media outlets without getting approval.”
Aguon said a special board should be created to help determine whether publishing pictures of skeletal remains in Guam’s media outlets is necessary.
“It’s disgraceful to our ancestors to poke and study them,” said Aguon. “We don’t want to offend the Chamorro community.”
John Peterson, director of the Micronesian Area Research Center, said the debate surrounding whether or not to expose ancestral remains has been around for many decades. Peterson said the Native American community in the mainland U.S. also struggled with varying ideas of how ancestral remains should be handled.
He said while some groups thought it was appropriate to show ancestral remains in photographs, other groups thought it was disrespectful and in bad taste.
Peterson said that Guam is no different.
“Here in the islands, there are different ways of thinking,” he said. “But regardless of a person’s cultural background everyone agrees that these remains must be treated with respect.”
Peterson said photos of ancestral remains should not be prohibited from appearing in popular media outlets. However, those photos must depict the remains for valid reasons.
“It shouldn’t be put out there to sensationalize, it has to be tasteful,” he said.