07 September 2011

Ned Kelly and the Missing Skull

Big Ned Kelly by bobmendo
Big Ned Kelly, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

Australia has many "Big" tourist things, like Merinos, Pineapples and Prawns, but this statue of Ned Kelly caught my eye at the servo named "Neds." Sensible.

I grew up in the US and had never heard of Ned Kelly before I moved here. We had our own with Jesse James and Al Capone and other lesser known bad-guys-we-want-to-know. For those outside of Aus, or at least outside of the awareness, Kelly's skull is the topic of late in science.

Born about 1854 to an Irish convict exiled to Australia, Kelly became a folk hero as a very young man. He took up arms against a corrupt British constabulary, robbed banks and wrote an explosive manifesto. He was shot and arrested in a final shootout in which he wore homemade metal armor (Hence the get up in the photo), and in 1880 he was hanged by the Anglo-Irish establishment he despised.

Legends, especially of anti-heroes, make for great stories, but most parents don't want their children emulating these folks. And Kelly would have gone into oblivion in the early part of the last century, except a mistake was made at the grave site.

Seems the men who dug graves in those days of the 19th Century used to use a certain lime to stimulate the grave's decomposition. As fate would have it, though, the gravediggers used the wrong lime which actually prevented decomposition, or at least stalled it big time.

So imagine, decades later as men were digging in 1929, moving earth to make room outside the Melbourne Gaol (jail, it's what it's called outside the US...) they found what appeared to be a site full of skeletons. And as juveniles did in those days, some grave robbers came upon the scene and took several bones and even a couple skulls. The one belonging to Kelly was one of those.

Or was it?

Truth is made clear in the real evidence of science and other methods of forensics. The search disappointed on so many levels, until 3 years ago when another digging excavation brought more bones and more hope to the surface.

The scientists found relatives in the direct line of Kelly's mother. They found clothing which might allow for DNA research. They queried everything as a good scientist does.

At the end on Wednesday, the forensic institute announced the disappointing results of their analysis. It appears that after all this time, after being abducted more than once, placed on display for the world to see, hidden for decades, cherished, handled, sought after and tested, the skull is not Ned Kelly’s. So said Fiona Leahy, a historian and legal adviser at the institute.

All that hope. All that hype. All that disappointment. All we have left is memories of the legend and iron masks on Halloween. Alas.

Sometimes we depend on science, but science can only tell us what it knows. It cannot tell us what it doesn't know. That's fair enough. The word, "science" is from the Latin word for 'knowledge.' And if there is knowledge, then we shall find it, and if there is not, then by definition, science has to be silent.

I speak often to people about religion and science. About Bible and God and controversy related to atheists and scientific debate. Let's be clear. No one has to dismiss honest science and facts to believe in God. No one has to dismiss God to welcome science and information. If God is True, then truth can handle being near other truth. That's sensible, too.

I found a set of YouTube videos which you might like on this subject and its implications. Check one here Debate . And you will find heaps more as you investigate.

I'm not afraid to investigate. I taught high school mathematics back in the 70s. My major in university was maths like Dr Lennox and my minor was in biology. I ask you to join me in this query as well. Don't lose your skull. Don't feel a need to check your mind at the door of honest inquiry.

Come on, let's reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be white as snow. (Isaiah chapter 1)

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