When an archaeologist insists on digging up a body sacred to a local tribe in Ecuador, the tribe carry out a mysterious ritual involving drinking some hallucinogens and spooky hi-jinks ensue.
You'd think I'd be in favour of any episode that opens at an archaeological dig site, but this one just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid.
Everything kicks off with the discovery of the body of a female shaman, which the local workers say is sacred. They say they should not disturb her, but the archaeologist in charge of the expedition walks all over them and them and prepares to cart the body off anyway. Except he's killed by a ghostly big cat before he gets the chance. By the time Mulder and Scully get involved, evidence taken from the site and removed to the U.S. has become the centre of an ethical debate.
There are certainly plenty of debates in archaeology about the ethical treatment of human remains, as well as the repatriation of material culture removed from one place and taken to another, and these aren't restricted to clearing up after controversial removals by 19th century collectors (though that accounts for quite a few of them). For example, the display of ancient Egyptian mummies provides a big boost to the Egyptian tourist industry, but goes against local Islamic customs (and presumably the Pharaohs wouldn't have been too keen either). So, should they be displayed or not?
However, if you want to avoid being cursed by your own colleagues and killed by a ghostly big cat, there are some simple guidelines you can follow. At a meeting of the World Archaeological Congress in South Dakota in 1989 (i.e. before this episode was written, so everyone should have been aware of them) the following guidelines for dealing with human remains were established:
1. Respect for the mortal remains of the dead shall be accorded to all, irrespective of origin, race, religion, nationality, custom and tradition.
2. Respect for the wishes of the dead concerning disposition shall be accorded whenever possible, reasonable and lawful, when they are known or can be reasonably inferred.
3. Respect for the wishes of the local community and of relatives or guardians of the dead shall be accorded whenever possible, reasonable and lawful.
4. Respect for the scientific research value of skeletal, mummified and other human remains (including fossil hominids) shall be accorded when such value is demonstrated to exist.
5. Agreement on the disposition of fossil, skeletal, mummified and other remains shall be reached by negotiation on the basis of mutual respect for the legitimate concerns of communities for the proper disposition of their ancestors, as well as the legitimate concerns of science and education.
6. The express recognition that the concerns of various ethnic groups, as well as those of science are legitimate and to be respected, will permit acceptable agreements to be reached and honoured.
Follow these guidelines and respect the concerns of all ethnic groups, and no ghostly big cats should come after you.
I am aware that I'm supposed to be reviewing this episode of The X-Files, not sharing my lecture on ethics in archaeology with everyone. Trouble is, there's really nothing remotely interesting about this one. I could barely remember it before re-watching it, and when I'm re-watching The X-Files for pleasure I usually skip it. There's nothing specifically awful about it, it's just a rather plain and dull attempt at a non-Egyptian cursed archaeology story.
I'm sorry, I'm completely out of anything to say about this one - I hope everyone enjoyed the archaeology lecture! Next week we will return to our usual scheduled X-Files reviews.
Bits and pieces
- Dr Lewton is played by Tom McBeath, who is Col. Maybourne from Stargate SG-1. I'm always pleased to see him, and he's always playing someone really slimy.
- Mulder looks half-asleep throughout this episode (or maybe I'm just projecting). Lots of Scully though, that's always good.
Scully: Have you been drinking Yaje, Mulder?
So dull, one of my lectures is more interesting. One out of four ghostly big cats.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.